Bad Reputation

Bad Reputation

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the final concert of Taylor Swift’s Reputation Tour. Now this is not a post about Taylor Swift herself, but her newest album tackles an interesting topic that teenagers and young adults are identifying with everywhere – reputation. Whether for good or for bad, your reputation impacts how others look at you, treat you, speak to you, or think about you.

In the world we live in today, reputation follows teens everywhere. It is on social media, and it keeps them up at night through texts and pictures. Can you imagine? Used to, in order to control your reputation, you just had to get to people with your version of the story before anyone else. Now, anyone can write the narrative for you – through social media posts or a text, or an unfortunate picture or video. It is enough to give you nightmares!

So what is your teen’s reputation?

Do you know? Have you asked? Do they feel like they are in control of their story?

To go back to Taylor Swift…At her concert, she stopped in the middle to talk about reputation – hers and the crowd’s. She said the following:

“I learned a really important lesson that I’ve been telling you from the stage for about 10 years, but I never had to learn it so harshly myself and that lesson has to do with how much you value your reputation. And I think that the lesson is that you shouldn’t care so much if you feel misunderstood by a lot of people who don’t know you, as long as you feel understood by the people who do know you. The people who will show up for you. With people who see you as a human being.”

And the crowd went absolutely WILD. Why? Because they identified with it. Everyone in that audience could think of a time when they were misunderstood. When someone believed a lie or reputation instead of taking the time to ask the person first.

Reputation is important. And it is something that needs to be talked about in our homes, church buildings, and schools. I urge you to start this conversation with a teen you know. Maybe these questions can be a good starting point:

  • What do your friends, teachers, and coaches think about you? What would you say your reputation is?
  • How can you control your reputation?
  • What could you do if you felt misunderstood or that your reputation didn’t reflect who you really were?
  • Do you feel like you can trust the people around you to protect your reputation? How could friends or peers ruin your reputation?
  • How does social media affect people’s reputation?
  • Do you have any friends who have been negatively affected by their reputation?
  • Who has the best reputation that you know? How do you think they protect their reputation?

 

As I listened to tens of thousands of girls scream the lyrics of Taylor Swift’s newest album, I knew she had hit a cord with our culture. Lyrics like: “They’re burning all the witches even if you aren’t one. So light me up.” or “Reputation precedes me, they told you I’m crazy. I swear I don’t love the drama, it loves me.”

While I am glad teenagers have different outlets to express their pain and frustration, let’s make sure they are hearing our voices on the issue of reputation. Please don’t let Taylor Swift be the only person they can turn to!

Karlie Duke was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is our Marketing & Development Director. She is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories.
Tribes and Words

Tribes and Words

This post was written by one of our facilitators, Josh Hardcastle. Before moving back to Abilene in 2016, Josh facilitated groups in Keller ISD. Now, Josh is the High School Youth Minister at Southern Hills Church in Abilene, TX where he lives with his wife, Whitney, and their two sons. Teen Life is so thankful for the way Josh pours into the lives of students! 


 

I’ve been in ministry for a little over 5 years. I’ve seen successful and connected students come through my ministries, and I’ve seen disconnected and lonely students as well. I saw students coming in to our class time on Sunday mornings 5 minutes after I would start teaching and bolt as soon as I finished with the final, “Amen” of class. It broke my heart when I realized something: they didn’t have a consistent person investing and pouring into them.

According to recent studies, nearly half of all students are losing their faith before and after they graduate. But let me tell you about one of the best things you can do for a student in your life: Surround them with a tribe.

Can we get honest for a minute? We all want to fit in. Some of us used to try a little too hard to fit in. (I’m looking at all you people who tried to rock the crazy hairstyles or wear the clothes that made you look “hip.”) We all try to fit in somewhere though, right? We really want to belong. It’s a part of who we are as humans.

As kids, the parents essentially got to decide who was in their child’s tribe. But as they get older, their tribe naturally fell into place depending on what activities they are involved in. It’s up to us, as adults who care about the teenagers we work with, to know who is in their tribe that they look up to so that we can partner with them. This could be a coach, another teacher, a minister/pastor, or maybe just someone who is older than them.

For parents, that means admitting that you are not the only voice that they listen to on a daily basis. For everyone else, that means we have to work together with the parents so that we can reinforce the right message. What does this look like practically?

 

  1. START WITH 5 PEOPLE YOU WOULD WANT INVESTING IN YOU.

One of the things I push my parents to do for their teenagers is to find five people for their student. And not just any five people. Five people that they look up to and would want to be mentored by as well. If they are good enough for you as a parent, they’re good enough for your teenager.

And don’t be awkward about it! A lot of times we make up excuses or might not know where to start when it comes to asking someone to invest in our teenagers. Be brave and willing to say, “Hey, I really appreciate the relationship that we have with your family. Would you be willing to encourage my teenager and speak life to them on a consistent basis?”

 

  1. YOUR WORDS MATTER

Parents, please hear me when I say this: you are still the biggest influence in the life of your teenager. You may not realize it and it may not seem like it during these years, but your influence is still important. An important principle to remember is that it’s more important to fight FOR your teenager’s heart rather than WITH your teenager.

Rabbi Yehuda Berg says, “Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.”

 

If you want a kid to know they matter, then it matters what words you use when you talk to them and about them. The words you use can set them up to feel significant, valued, and unique.

Tribes help us feel connected.
Words help us to be empowered.

Tribes are there when we fall.
Words are there to build us up.

Tribes can give us a sense of belonging.
Words can give us light in the darkness.

Tribes matter.
Words matter.

Every Kid Needs a Trophy

Every Kid Needs a Trophy

Today, we have a guest writer on the Teen Life blog! Seth Nichols is married to our Program Director, Beth. Seth has taught public school for 10 years and prior to that worked as a full-time youth minister. Take a look at what he had to say this week!


 

Emotionally speaking, our kids today have one of the most challenging paths to adulthood of any generation in history.

My wife, Beth, finished the Cowtown Marathon in 2010. It took every ounce of willpower and determination she had to eek out a glorious 5-hour finish time in a puddle of sweat and tears.

Today, as we were cleaning out drawers, our 5-year-old found her participant’s medal.

“Mommy–did you get first place?!”

After a snarky laugh, the response came– “Sometimes, buddy, you get a medal just for not quitting.”

________________

Some people say our kids today are entitled.  That they’re too soft.  That they need a trophy for everything.

Maybe they do.

The race they are running isn’t the same one many of us coasted through 30 or 50 years ago.

Theirs runs
up mountains of expectations,
against the winds of financial hardship and class separation,
through rains of data-driven critique,
far from home,
alone from adult interaction,
lost in a cyber-world that threatens YouTube clips any time they trip or #fail.

Their race is not for the faint of Spirit.

Every distance runner knows that the worst part of any race is the head-game.  Of course they’re sensitive. But the fact that they are still running means they’re also courageous.  They may not be making record time. But just by their not quitting, we are witnessing cause for celebration.

It isn’t easy.  Disconnection and isolation can make even a comfy Suburban life seem impossibly difficult.

So cheer your kids on today.  They need you.  Resist those grumpy voices in your head from past generations that say you’re being too soft, that you’re encouraging entitlement, that you’re making them too thin-skinned.

brandon-day-196392-unsplash

Trust me when I say– life in the 21st century will make them calloused enough without your help.

__________________

After 15 years of youth work, I have come to this conclusion: our kids are entitled. They are entitled to every drop of our scant praise, our scarce love and our meager encouragement to keep on running.  They are entitled because they are our kids.

The course set for them is long and hard.  And we may just be witnessing the miracle of the human spirit with every graduation, every new class, and every next step.

patrick-fore-557732-unsplash

So give your kids a trophy.  Let love flow freely, and critique run dry.  And with your little morsel of praise to nudge them on, who knows what mountains they may conquer next?

Who Are Your People?

Who Are Your People?

A couple of weeks ago, we had a huge problem. My son, Sawyer, was refusing to go to sleep at night. Overnight, he went from going to bed in minutes to standing up in his crib, screaming unless he was being held. Until this time, we have been spoiled by his sleeping habits, so when they suddenly changed, I was desperate.

After a couple of nights of rocking him every 15 minutes and then eventually crawling in his crib until he fell asleep, I asked for help. I asked good friends, my mom, and even put it out on Instagram to get the advice and wisdom from my fellow mom friends. This is not something I often do, but after all the great wisdom I got, I wondered, “Why don’t I usually ask for advice or help?”

We encourage teenagers to seek wise counsel, find adults they can trust, and surround themselves with peers who will make them better. Why do we do this? Because we know that they are going to face tough circumstances, and we don’t want them to be alone.

But how often do we follow this advice ourselves? Other than your spouse or very best friend, how often do you share trials, struggles and doubts with the people in your circle?

Lately, there has been a call for people to be more authentic on social media. It is easy for me to post pictures on vacation or of Sawyer when he is smiling, clean, and happy. It is difficult to post images of a dirty house, a home cooked meal that ended up being just okay, or cranky baby. Whether on social media or in real life, it is often difficult for us to admit that we don’t have it all together. We don’t have all the answers. Our lives aren’t always perfect, posed, and picture worthy.

We are wrong.

You need people to talk to and do life with, just like your teenager.

Now, I understand the older we get, the trickier it is to share information about our spouse, kids, or job. Please understand that I am not asking you to break trust or find a group of friends to gossip with. I am simply encouraging you to find a community that you trust and that will give advice to better yourself and your family.

Sometimes this will mean having a friend to call after a long day of work to remind you why you love your job. Other times it might be someone ahead of you in life who will give advice and counsel because they have been through it already. It also may mean having that person who will call you out when you are wrong – who will tell you stay with your spouse when it’s hard or apologize to your kids when you overreacted.

Your people will look different from my people, but here are a few qualities to look for:

  • Find someone who you admire. Maybe you love the way they parent, or they have a way of finding joy in every situation. Talk to the people you want to be like, they will make you better.
  • Find someone older than you. Peers are great, but talk to others who aren’t in “the weeds” anymore. Talk to someone who has been through something similar but made it to the other side.
  • Find someone who is encouraging. When life is hard, sometimes you just need someone to cheer you on! Find the people who will show up at the big and small events. Who will celebrate every victory with you.
  • Find someone who is honest. This one is hard. I like people who agree with me. But I need people who will love me enough to tell me when I am wrong or when I should be doing something different. Find someone you trust who you know will always be honest with you.
  • Find someone who loves your family. My favorite people to talk to are the ones who know where I am coming from. The people who gave me good advice on Instagram did so because they love my son and want what is best for him. Seek people who love your marriage and your kids, not just you.

 

Who are these people in your life? Do you see the value in seeking community as adults? Let us know what you think!

Karlie Duke was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is our Marketing & Development Director. She is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories.
The Road to Self Discovery

The Road to Self Discovery

Some days ago, I sat with my wife after a frustrating series of events unfolded with my kids where I likely handled things poorly as a dad. As anyone who is a parent can attest to, there are times that you don’t quite line up to where you would like, and those times can draw you into reflection. As we sat, she calmly asked me a series of questions that revealed my frustrations were not at all with my kids, but with some other things that were completely out of my control – and I was likely just taking it out on the kids. Like I said, dad fail.

My wife is so good for me because she is willing to sit down after the fact and talk through what happened – kind of like a coach. And when I might get too frustrated or become short with my kids, it is often times because I am not aware of how I am feeling at the moment. Being a parent is hard. But being a parent while also being unaware of my own shortcomings and stressors – well that just makes things unfair, right? When I am blind to my weaknesses and vulnerabilities, I am also blind to how that affects those around me.

So much of the research into those who are healthy, not only physically but emotionally, shows that healthy individuals tend to be self-aware. These are the people who know where they excel, but also where they fail. They “do their work”, so to speak, and take the time to be forthright with themselves about where things stand.

I am at my best when I do my work, and I believe you will be as well. One of the best resources I have found (amongst a multitude of others) is the Enneagram – a personality framework that identifies nine basic personalities and variations within those personalities. For me this has been particularly helpful because my identified type, the Peacemaker (or a “9”) has more difficulty than most at being self-aware. At Teen Life, we have done quite a bit of reflection as a staff with the Enneagram and better understand each other and what makes us work. This tool has been incredibly helpful with my marriage and relationships as well.

It has been a game changer as a parent.

Part of why I am bringing up the Enneagram is that we are starting to record a series of podcasts on the Enneagram and teenagers next week and will begin releasing those in October. This will be a big series for us because we will be sharing a dynamic tool that will not only help you know yourself better as a parent or helper of a teenager, but will also help you better understand your teenager as well.

In the meantime, I’d encourage you to check out a great book on the subject – The Road Back to You by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile that offers a great introduction to the tool as well as ways we can identify our numbers. Also, I’d point you towards Ian and Suzanne’s podcasts that take a deep dive into this great resource as well.

If you want to take a quick survey that will get you on your way, you can click here.

Maybe the Enneagram isn’t for you, but you have found a personality profiling system that has – what system has worked for you? Please share in the comments!

 

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

The Masquerade

This week, my 5-year old son John came down the hall and introduced himself as “Kevin.”   When I turned around from washing dishes, I realized he was wearing goggles- Minion goggles from his Kevin costume. For the next hour, he only answered to “Kevin” and ignored anyone who called him by his actual name. We all had several good laughs when someone inadvertently called him by his true name, causing much playful indignation.

Masks.

Designed for fun. Designed for camouflage. Designed for protection. Designed to make a statement. Worn by people of all ages and stages.

An excerpt from “We Wear the Mask” – a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar:

We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.

 

Why should the world be over-wise,

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

We wear the mask.

 

Unlike my 5-year-old, too often the students we work with wear masks for protection and/or camouflage. They are anxious about being seen for who they really are. They do not want to be singled out for fear of being targeted. They do not know what to do with the hurt that they carry. They do not know if they will be accepted.

The same things could be said about us as adults.

What can we do? How can we help the students we love (and ourselves)? A few suggestions for pulling back the mask:

  1. Be present. Show up – Be consistent – Follow through – for the students in your lives and your adult friends. Allow others to make their own decisions. No one pulls their masks back without trust and relationship.
  2. Ask students how they feel. Stick to the basics – sad, mad, scared, and glad. This is probably a new idea to many of them and to many adults. Give them a script – “I feel _______ when _______ happens.”  It isn’t always easy, but it makes a huge difference when a person can identify and own their feelings.
  3. Model authenticity with appropriate boundaries. In the words of Madeline Fry– “Healthy vulnerability recognizes when to share and when to remain silent. This helps you strike the balance between guarding who you are at your core and expressing it.” Learning boundaries takes practice in a world that pressures you to share and say yes.

 

Eventually, my son took off the goggles and informed us all that we could call him John again. Our hope is that everyone, students and adults alike, have a safe place to remove their masks and be called by their true name.

May you be that person for someone else and may you have those people in your life as well.

 

 

Beth Nichols is Teen Life's Program Director. With her background in social work and experience as a mom of 4, her perspective is invaluable.