Trading One Set of Good Things for Another

Trading One Set of Good Things for Another

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from one of my best friends regarding marriage. This one stuck in my memory for some reason I can’t explain. The advice was prompted by some of my anxieties revolving around leaving the “single life” – something at which I had become adept by virtue of the many years of practice. I was obviously excited about marrying the girl who had become my best friend in life, but I wasn’t really sure what it was going to be like sharing a life with someone else.

The thing is, when we do something new, old things have to pass away. This is a really hard truth as revealed by the millions of broken “resolutions” we find scattered amongst the first few months of the year. We all want to do things better and become better people, but in our efforts we forget my friend’s incredible advice:

“You have to trade one good set of things for another set of good things.” 

This advice was ringing in my ears when I read a recent blog post by Dr. Tim Elmore about some encouraging and discouraging statistics on teenagers. You can read it here. Dr. Elmore outlines some great news on teenagers balanced out with some bad news.

Smoking is down.

Junk food consumption is up.

Sexual activity is down.

So is condom use.

Drinking and driving is down.

Texting while driving is up.

Think if you were a charity or non-profit who worked diligently on the issue of drunk driving and seeing the stats fall, only to see traffic fatalities rise for essentially the same problem – impaired driving. Or if you worked tirelessly on educating youth that smoking kills only to see them eating potato chips for dinner?

Teenagers, like adults, tend to find things to help us cope with life. We all have them. Life is stressful and difficult, and we can’t always be on our “A” game. So, we justify certain behaviors so we can “get by”. After a while, we see the error in this thinking and try to change our unhealthy habits.

The problem is, changing an unhealthy behavior has to be followed with something good. We have to trade one set of things for another set of things. The only caveat is, what are we replacing it with?

I found this idea to be true in my own life recently. Since the beginning of the year I’ve tried to lose some weight (which I have) and clean up my eating (which I….kind of have), and found myself eating good during the day but eating unhealthy before bedtime. It’s like I undo all of the good I’ve done throughout the day with a poor eating choice at night.

And because of that, I struggle to meet my goals. I haven’t really traded anything.

As we walk alongside teenagers, we can’t just tell them to “stop doing things” and offer no real alternative or better path. Human beings tend to cope. And if we can’t find healthier ways to cope, we will only find other unhealthy ways.

We can’t get mad at teenagers or disparage an entire generation because they kind of act like us sometimes. Let’s help teenagers find ways to exchange an unhealthy set of behaviors for something good, sustainable, and life-bringing.

For more on this, I’d encourage you to read Dr. Elmore’s brief post about how we use these findings to bring about healthy change with our teenage friends. 

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

An Intentional Shift in Parenting

I had a conversation the other day with a good friend who was talking about an example of middle school students who needed an adult to “hammer them”. That didn’t mean berate or mistreat them but rather let them know that their actions were not acceptable and that they could be punished for the way they were talking and acting.

 

Too often adults think that being permissable is the way to let kids know you trust them. There’s just one problem, they aren’t trustworthy. They are earning that just like you do with any new job you start or volunteer position or neighborhood. You must gain the trust of the others by showing you understand how to interact with the people around you. The written rules (or unwritten maybe) are not there to squelch your freedom but to guide the freedom we all have so that we can all enjoy living along side each other.

 

That prompted me to think about things that we as adults need to shift in the way we interact with teenagers.

 

1. Stop telling them to be who they are. They have no idea who they are! What this really comes down to is creating space for them to explore who they are in a safe, loving environment. Have a conversation, talk through how certain choices will help them be a better version of themselves each and every day. Read about historical figures who didn’t know who they were until late in life. This will help a teenager understand that the urgency they feel to know the meaning of their life by the end of high school is instead something they will be working on years into their career, or a second or third career. The world of America’s Got Talent and The Voice will never be reality for the vast majority of us.

 

2. Teach them how to make intentional choices, not emotional decisions. When my wife and I were getting engaged and I asked her to marry me she said, “No.” Wow! I did not see that coming! But then within 30 minutes, she had calmed down and let me know she just got really nervous and emotional, and she did want to marry me. I’m so thankful because 16 years later I’m a better man for it! We both questioned what that meant and had some very good mentors tell us it was part of making the intentional decision rather than relying on a “lovey” feeling to hold us together. This mindset applies to lots of other situations too.

 

3. Realize you are coaching, not training, by the time your child becomes a teen. I love Andy Stanly’s timeline for parenting that says at 13 you have taught your child everything you can, and it’s time to begin moving out of the way and start coaching your teen in the right direction. If you didn’t teach them the way to make good decisions before 13, your role still shifts from enforcer to coach. The up side here is that this approach can lessen your stress as a parent if you let it.

 

These 3 suggestions come not from parenting for me but from our support groups which is different. What I do know from parenting and from personal experience is that these 3 principles, paired with other adults willing to help your child by coaching them in the same way you will, can be the difference between them becoming a succesful adult or not.

How have you intentionally shifted your parenting to reduce your stress and act more long term with your teen? 

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
5 Ways to Face the Storm

5 Ways to Face the Storm

What a week here in Texas! Our thoughts and prayers are with all the people in Corpus Christi, Houston and the surrounding areas. It’s a heartbreaking situation, and if you are interested in helping, it will be a long and expensive process, so now is the time to jump in with a donation or work out a way go in person and help. You can donate through this YouCaring site that J.J. Watt started and has already raised over $20 million, but the recovery will be long and expensive, so a donation now will help when later many people forget about the efforts that will take months or years.

All the news about the storms reminded me about something we talk about in our Facilitator Training as we explain what is happening at the core of what we do. In a very different way we all face storms in our life. Teenagers are especially susceptible to intense, potentially life changing storms. These life interruptions can make or break a teenager and their future.

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post on the specifics about how we can think about this considering how buffalo and cattle handle the storms that blow over the Rockies. Each handling it in their own way. This came from Rory Vaden’s book Take The Stairs. I have continued using this analogy since reading the book years ago.

Today though I wanted to take this idea further. The 5 parts to facing a storm in life are foundational principles that will help any teenager form a perspective that will give them the courage to face the challenges they encounter.

 

Prepare Yourself First

Preparing yourself is often something we feel we should do after we take care of everyone else. For a teenager, this preparation can be anything from learning an effective mental exercise, to a list of resources in their phone, to prioritizing who they would call first, second and third in an emergency. When we face hardships, our natural reaction is to work quickly to remove them. The truth is the quickest and easiest way to handle a difficulty is to know what to do when it happens. Any of these are relevant approaches, but you know what prepares them the most? Their mental preparation. We do not enjoy thinking about the worst case scenario, but when we take the time to do this, we gain the benefit of feeling we would be able to handle something tough if it comes our way. The bottom line is we handle it best when we are prepared.

 

Model Calmness for Your Teen

Modeling is an opportunity to show a teenager how to stay calm and collected through a life storm. In the buffalo example, the young ones know what to do becuase they watch how the older ones take action when the storms begin to approach. We can do the same. I have learned from years of working with teens that many of us parents try to only do this ourselves. The truth is you need to intentionally involve other adults you trust in your teen’s life so that they will have multiple respected adults to watch and talk to about what is happening. They will likely never share everything with one adult, especially if their only option is you as their parent.

 

Attack the Situation with Confidence

I prefer to say confidence because courage can sometimes sound like “sucking it up”. But “Attack with Confidence” sends the message that I am prepared, resourced and intentionally moving toward the situation because I believe I have what it takes to handle it. Since our natural tendency is to remove all pain, it is counter intuitive to think that you could be in an offensive position when you have an unexpected pain point. But it really is true. Consider what you have faced before, think about how it made you stronger and move forward expecting to learn something once again that will help you face the next challenge. We can never remove the stress from life, but we can believe we have what it takes to make it through.

 

Enlist a Community

I touched on this above, but it is much deeper than that. Did you know that the thing that makes people the most happy is being with other people? I heard last weekend that a study showed that people who were not in community but joined a group of some kind cut their odds of dying in the next year in half! In half! That is worth it right there. But there are more benefits. For about 3 years, I was in a group of other directors of nonprofit programs. I learned a ton from these people both about what to do and what not to do. Our group helped make me and our organization better even though they didn’t have any direct impact on decisions made in our organization. Here’s the key though, be sure you include people different than you in your community. It will help stretch you and help you see how drastically varied perspectives can be. Often you may find that things in your life aren’t really so bad and the hard work you are putting in is worth what you get out of it.

 

Celebrate the Survival

Once you have gotten through a difficult time, it is important to recognize, if only in a small way, that you made it. Your family can set the tradition here. You decide how things get celebrated. The point in this is to put emphasis on the fact that you survived. No one is saying you have to survive a certain way or have to look tougher on the other side, just make it through. Then as you draw on the strength that got you through, you will be able to pull yourself together and continue to grow into the new you. By seeing every situation you face as a chance to grow, to learn, to become more self-aware and others-focused, you can celebrate more on the other side because you will feel accomplished rather than beat down each time you survive what life throws at you.

What do you think? Do you have examples of times you have survived and how it made you better? Share them with us or at least share them with someone close to you so it can help them have a different perspective too.

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
What Can I Learn?

What Can I Learn?

School is about to start! Some of you are jumping for joy, and others are trying to figure out how to delay that inevitable day a little longer.
As the year starts, I hope that you are able to find a sense of why school is worth your time and effort. Don’t worry, I remember not wanting to go back too. Since then, I have learned a lot about the importance of prioritizing learning and have even begun the habit of reading multiple books at the same time. (Currently: The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork by John Maxwell, The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch, Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms by Lissa Evans and The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom).

For years I didn’t read anything because I felt I didn’t have time. Thankfully I began listening to things that helped me realize I didn’t have time NOT to read. The necessity of learning by reading and listening to podcasts and audiobooks has been made clear, and it has led me to one question that stands out in any situation I am faced with. This can be personal, business, relational or anything. If you embrace this one question and release the desire for control of the situation, the payoff is worth every ounce of effort you put into this change in perspective.

Here is the question: “What can I learn?” This applies to a positive situation, a negative situation, or a neutral situation. You can ask this anytime, anywhere, about anything. So how do we narrow the focus and apply this as the school year starts to get the most out of this year?

First of all, I assume that this blog is mostly read by adults, not teenagers. So if you are a teen, be sure to read below understanding that it is intended for someone helping you understand the concept. This may mean some things feel they don’t apply. I would ask that you talk with an adult about the information. Not because you can’t understand it, but because their life experience may help them read this differently than you. In the end, hopefully you will both be better off from simply having a conversation about it.

Use these steps as a guide to get the most out of this school year.

Don’t assume adversity is bad. The tendency more and more is to assume that when we meet resistance or conflict, we must turn the other way, fight, or reject the interaction. This is becoming more and more the case with teenagers who lack empathy and who have at their disposal a constant connection to be able to find the type of interaction they crave. There is no need to push through an uncomfortable exchange with a peer or teacher because it is easy to find a more pleasant one somewhere else

The problem here is that there may be a significant lesson to be learned. That may be patience or some self awareness or something new about that person that gives us insight we didn’t have before. If the immediate reaction is to remove the tension, we miss this opportunity. If we instead ask, “What can I learn?”, there is the distinct possibility we will get something signifiant from the interaction. It may be that we do not want to engage that person again. But we don’t really know that if we are retreating. We can know that if our brain is working to understand what we can get out of the situation.

You won’t waste a class ever again. Since becoming a more active learner, one of the things that stands out when listening to others is the comment that something is a waste of time. This is a very empty comment. Most often what they are meaning is that they would rather be doing something else. Not necessarily something more worth while, just something else. The truth is whether something is a waste of time is up to each of us. If we give that power to the person teaching the class, giving the lecture, or coaching us on fundamentals, we have willingly relinquished our ability to gain anything and better ourselves. The idea that you can learn in any situation reclaims that power and brings ownership back to me as the person choosing to spend my time a certain way. You may try to argue that someone else set your schedule, you had to take that class, or the company paid for conference you didn’t want to go to. Think about it, that is really beside the point. In any of those situations, you are still looking for reason not to engage and to blame someone else for why you are getting nothing out of the experience. Instead, look at it as a chance to either decide to seek out more learning from that person, or organization, or to eliminate them from your resources. You can’t know this though until you try to learn something from them first.

Have a plan to share something after a learning experience. The idea that you are always learning can be overwhelming. It can seem like you will never be able to recall what you need to know, and therefore, what’s the point. Truth be told, this is what kept me from reading much for about 10 years. I am a bit of a slow reader and thought if I can’t remember what I read, it’s pointless. What I have since realized is that the act of reading is part of the exercise. It helps keep my brain working and growing. I have also realized that sharing something I have learned helps me hold onto the most important parts. The Principles. After listenting and reading long enough, I now understand that there are some basic principles that drive most of what we do. In order for those principles to be reinforced though, we need to hear them often and in many different ways so that we can execute them in our particular situation so the people we are helping with our work can benefit.

Think of it this way. You may go to a three day conference but come home and apply one of the principles you learned in hours of training to work or family and it changes not just you, but the people around you. Maybe you listen to an audiobook for 12 hours, in increments of 30 minute commute trips to and from work. In those 12 hours, you can’t recall anything but you do know as you listened, you began to feel differently about your life, increase your confidence and become more self aware, allowing you to work harder be a better spouse or parent and see down the road possibilities that you never knew existed. It wasn’t about the content, it was about choosing to ask, “What can I learn?”

So how do you take this and begin helping your teenagers (elementary kids in my instance) have an attitude of learning? Where their default is not that things are boring, and they wish they were somewhere else, but that they are always looking to learn something no mattter how small? The sooner this can begin, the more they will learn, and the better off they will be.

Try this first: simply ask them daily “What did you learn today?” Then sit back and be okay with the answer. If they say, “Nothing,” keep asking until they get to the point that they realize the possibility to learn something from any situation they find themselves in. This foundational lesson will be invaluable and lead to a lot less wasted time (because they won’t see it that way). Don’t do what I did and miss out on a decade of potential learning simply because of a choice. Instead choose now to learn something from everything.

“What can you learn today?” Share with us what you learned just from this post. We love hearing from you.

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
Back to Baby Basics

Back to Baby Basics

This summer has brought some changes for our family. Huge change in fact in the form of a precious little boy named Sawyer. I promise to get to the point of this post soon, but first – who doesn’t love some cute baby pictures??
 

 

Having a baby and spending time at home this summer with him has completely changed my perspective. People expect you to take off from work, forget about house chores and just spend time with your sweet little one. So much importance is placed on enjoying and getting to know your baby – as it should be! But why does this only apply when our children are infants? Even though I am a rookie mom and newbie parent, I think there are several baby-parenting tactics that we should apply to parenting teens. They may be half-grown and independent (or so they think), but these teenage years are so critical for their development and your family!

Here are a few things that I believe we can learn from those beginning days of parenting that can benefit the relationship you share with your teenager:

 

Dedicated Meal Times

I am a huge believer in the power of meals and their ability to bring people together. Perfect strangers are friends at the end of a meal. Two people can begin a romantic relationship over a meal. And people are comforted, encouraged and uplifted through meal conversations. Meals are so important.

When kids are little, meals require alot of attention. Meal times are all about them, whether they are a babies and parents (mainly moms) have to put down everything to feed them the milk they need, or they are toddlers and it is all out warfare to get a bite of food in their moving, screaming mouths. When do we lose the desire to set aside dedicated time for meals? I know life is busy. I know it isn’t always possible to eat every meal at home, but teenagers need dedicated time from you!

This mealtime can look different for every family. Maybe it is ordering pizza and eating on paper. Maybe it is grabbing a quick bite after football practice at your favorite fast food restaurant. Or maybe it includes a homemade meal and set table (good for you!). Whatever your situation looks like, take time to silence phones, turn off televisions, get rid of distractions and share a meal with your family. Ask about school and tell them about your day in return. Find out more about friends and hobbies. Talk about future plans and silly things like their favorite TV shows. They need that time, and I bet you’ll find that you do, too! In fact, Andy and Sandra Stanley talk about this in a series on family. (You can watch it here! Start at 22:00 to begin where they talk about family dinners.)

 

Intentional Routines

When children are little, we have routines for everything. A morning routine – wake up, change diaper, put on fresh clothes. A nightly routine – bath time, change into pjs, read a book, goodnight kisses. Imagine if we had routines with our teenagers…seems silly, right? But these don’t have to include reading them a book or rocking them to sleep. It doesn’t even have to be a bedtime routine!

Last season of the Stay Calm, Don’t Panic! Podcast, Chris Robey discussed this very topic with Dr. Mark DeYoung in the episode “4 Ways the ‘Check-In’ Transforms Relationships.” I encourage you to go listen to this podcast! There are so many benefits to asking teens how they are doing and making it part of a routine. I discussed a dinner routine above, but maybe your routine is as simple as asking one question in the car on the way home from school. Or asking them to say goodnight before they go to bed and speaking truth over them at that time. Create a routine so your teenager knows what to expect from you. Ask good questions and speak words of encouragement.

 

Realistic Expectations

Sawyer is now a month and a half old. He is still a baby and therefore, acts like a baby. Duh, right? You wouldn’t expect my baby to walk, talk, or use the bathroom by himself. If he cries, I am not surprised. When he has a blowout diaper, I don’t get upset with him. I am enjoying every moment of this baby stage – the good, bad, and the stinky.

We need to apply the same principle with teenagers. They are going to mess up, make decisions you don’t understand, get caught up in drama. I fear that adults often fall into the trap of treating teenagers like children while placing adult expectations on them. We hover and control while also getting upset when they don’t make choices we approve of. They are still trying to figure out who they are. They need a little guidance and a whole lot of grace! If you place unrealistic expectations on your teenager, you will be as frustrated as I would be if I expected Sawyer to change his own diapers.

Let’s go back to the days where our children were more important than clean houses and home cooked meals. I beg you to take the time to get to know your teenager! What do you think about this? Are there other baby-parenting practices that you can apply to parenting teenagers?

Karlie Duke was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is our Communications Director. She is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories.
Give In To The Resistance – Repost

Give In To The Resistance – Repost

This week's post is another repost chosen by me, Maddi, also known as the intern. I chose this post because instead of urging parents to limit the amount of technology their children are getting, which I agree with, Ricky simply does the opposite. It's important to understand how most teens are communicating with their peers in order to understand how to communicate with them yourselves. All our lives would be much easier if we simply made an effort to understand one another, including this. Technology is something that isn't going to go away any time soon, and it's only getting easier to access for younger generations. Take a look at Ricky's tips on how to become more comfortable with the technological world growing around us.

I just watched a Today Show piece on limiting your technology intake, but it seemed extreme even to me. The person featured was taking a completely disconnected approach. She deleted her social media (Jenna Hoda deleted her social media too, but they had another lady on that took it further) from her phone and left her phone at home when she went out. In other words she reverted to the days when she had only a home phone.

Here is the problem. That isn’t going to last. I am guilty too. I have talked in the past about staying away from new forms of connecting, but the problem is they aren’t going away.

 
I have even heard that people didn’t want to believe cars would be something that lasted either. In the 80’s, people wrote about the dangers of the home telephone. Each step made in technology has been met with initial resistance, sometimes even resulting in people reverting back to something old.

 
So what should we do instead? The reality is the people doing the tech piece on Today Show were mostly over 40. I believe that says something about the legitimacy of the perspective.

 
I’m offering a new point of view, let’s embrace the change. Carefully, thoughtfully, but embracing and engaging it. Using social media will get us to a much more effective end than resisting and missing opportunities to learn new ways of engaging the world around us.
 

There are so many good things that technology and social media can allow us to do, and if we don’t embrace that change, we will never discover what those things are. Someone might, but you may be forfeiting an opportunity.
 

Let’s embrace change.

 
I am all for safety and digital awareness that factors in time spent online and filtering that is literally healthy for our mind and soul. However, we are far past the point of return where we can believe that deleting social media apps or not having online access is a possibility in the future (baring an apocalyptic loss of electricity or the whole internet).

 
So here are 5 tips to embrace the change and still keep our sanity. On the positive high side, it could even mean doing something good for yourself or others.

 
1 Be in charge. Technology is a tool, not a toy or a distraction. It can be, but you need do drastic things to use it for what you intend it for. For example, I decided over a year ago that I would delete all but kids games (which I’m not tempted to play) off of my phone. So if I am sitting at the oil change station, I’m not tempted to waste time playing. I can either work or leave my phone in my pocket.

2 Use the settings to your benefit. Automate as much as possible. If you find that during the day you’re particularly distracted at a certain time, set a “Do not disturbed” to activate during that time. Or better yet, just turn on Do Not Disturb at key times like when driving, for an hour of reading in the morning, while dedicating 50 minutes to a task. Trust me, people can wait that long for a response. Why? Because they’re too busy being distracted to remember they called you anyway!

3 Find the apps that are most useful and put them on your home screen. The first screen you see each time you open should prompt your mind to think of what you should focus on. Ideally this would have no folders. If you do, you probably have too many things fighting for your attention. Rearrange your apps to create a virtual focal point on the apps that lead to your most productive tasks.

4 Share, share, share! Since I got my first iPhone in 2011, I have not stopped learning new things. From podcast to TED talks, from YouTube DIY channels to online blogs, audio books (you totally need the Libby public library app) to Airdrop, all of it makes sharing things that make my life better and easier. You can choose to focus on the negative things available to all of us but this has been a choice since the beginning of time. So stop spreading the fear and start sharing the things that make your life and mine better.

5 Breaks have always been good. Taking a break has always been a way for people to recharge. This has little to do with technology and a lot to do with the way we as humans are wired. Choose the way that is right for you and then stick to it. Use that time to refocus and come back better than ever to engage the world (quite literally) again, bringing your most promising contribution to anyone ready to listen.

 
So now what? What do you do with a blog that promotes more technology use in a world that is saying to slow down and back off. Well, that’s up to you. But I would suggest you evaluate and move forward. If you get stuck not knowing what to do or are paralyzed by fear that something bad is going to happen, you will miss an amazing opportunity that literally never existed before.

What about you? What ways have you found to embrace the change and give in to the resistance?

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.