Repost: Promoting Thankfulness

Repost: Promoting Thankfulness

I originally wrote this post two years ago. A lot can change in two years…but the importance of promoting thankfulness, especially among teenagers, has not changed! I hope this post still holds ideas and inspiration for this holiday season.

 

November is one of the only times of year that is set aside for everyone to be thankful.

We are thankful for food, family, and football.

But especially right now, many people seem to be struggling with thankfulness. Maybe they aren’t thankful for our recent election, their job situation, the fact that Texas doesn’t have a real Fall…the list could go on and on. But teenagers and our kids are watching us! If we aren’t thankful, why should they be?

This holiday season, let’s be intentional about our thankfulness. Maybe this year, we need to step up our game and make it more than a just a Thanksgiving Day deal. Being thankful can be an everyday thing! In fact, there are several ways that thankfulness and gratitude can positively affect your quality of life!

Here are a few ideas to promote thankfulness in your family and make it special for teenagers this holiday season:

 

Include them in the Thanksgiving preparations.

Thanksgiving is a holiday that takes a lot of hard work, cooking and preparation. When you’re a little kid, it’s awesome because you get to sleep in, watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and be served food followed by pie. However, it is time for us to get our children, and especially teenagers, involved in the day.

If you’re like me, I am even more thankful for things when I know how much work and effort went into making it happen. Plus, this is a family holiday! Take advantage of that family time by passing on family recipes and traditions in the kitchen!

  • Have them help with the turkey
  • Teach them how to make grandma’s famous pie
  • Ask them to set the table and encourage them to get creative with the decorations
  • Have them make their favorite side dish

There are easy ways to get teenagers involved in making Thanksgiving dinner a success!

 

Create a thankfulness activity.

Be intentional about the way your family talks about thankfulness. A great way to do that is to create a family activity that everyone can participate in.

Maybe you get a paper or cheap fabric tablecloth that your family can use for the month of November. Every time your family sits down to eat together, have everyone write something that they are thankful for on the tablecloth. This is fun to see what you have been thankful for over a short period of time, and you can even keep the tablecloth for the next year!

Another idea is to create a thankfulness tree. This is a great excuse to put up your Christmas tree a few weeks early, or you could have a separate, smaller tree just for thankful words. Each day, have your family (or each member of the family if you are really thankful) decide on something you are thankful for and write it on an ornament. Decorate your tree with things you are thankful for before you fill it with presents!

Perhaps your thankfulness activity is something as simple as asking each family member to pick something they are thankful for and share it every night before bed. It does not have to be elaborate for it to be meaningful!

 

Give back to others in need. 

Sometimes it is easier to be thankful for what we do have when we serve people who have less than us. Growing up, service was a big part of what my family did together. We went on mission trips, adopted families at Christmas time and served the homeless on different occasions. These are opportunities for you to not only talk about your own blessings, but to also create family memories that will have a lasting impact.

If you are looking for a way to serve this holiday season, here are some ideas:

  • Go shopping for canned goods and help your local food pantry stock their shelves. Ask if they need any help!
  • Serve a meal at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter.
  • Request a M.A.G.I. box and fill it with goodies for a child in need.
  • Go through your closet and donate your old coats and sweaters.
  • Surprise a family by paying their grocery bill or pay for the person behind you in the drive-thru of your favorite restaurant.

Whatever you decide to do, serve as a family and take advantage of the conversations that can come out of this experience!

Are you willing to try any of these things to promote thankfulness? What other ideas have you used to make the holiday season extra special?

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.
A Powerful Relationship “Hack” with Teenagers

A Powerful Relationship “Hack” with Teenagers

A while back, I received a text from one of our volunteers asking to meet in person. This particular person was an influential volunteer for Teen Life and had been really active with us in the past. But I felt like something was up. This person was always someone who communicated more over text and email and rarely, if ever, asked to meet in person.

It turns out I was right. My friend had ended up losing their job suddenly and was asking for prayers and any guidance on finding new work related to their field. I really felt bad for my friend.

Part of what we talk about in Teen Life volunteer trainings is the idea of using our intuition as a listening device. So often we are dulled to our instincts and don’t really trust the gift of intuition in our relationships. In our trainings, we teach the concept of intuition as our ability to understand something immediately without the need for conscious reasoning. That is, we just know something is true.

It’s a weird little quirk of being human. We have the innate ability to sense something is off or wrong – whether we know exactly what it is or not.

But for me it’s all how we use our intuition. Often we use our intuition to identify problems. But Teen Life believes our intuition offers us an opportunity to ask good questions. If we sense something is “off”, we want to be the kind of people who stop and say, “Hey, tell me more about that.” We teach five different intuition “indicators”. They go as follows:

Discernment – essentially our “read” on a situation, whether it is true or not.

Patterns – patterns can take lots of forms, often repeating the same story, phrase, idea.

Red Flags – inconsistencies in a story or telling of a situation.

Strong Emotions – strong language, intense emotions, anger.

Turning points – major events or stories in a person’s life.

As you work with teenagers, you have the opportunity to be a different kind of influence. Teenagers have strong emotions. Their stories don’t always add up. They say the same thing over and over. They have huge elements in their own story they are unaware of and tend to let slip by.

For the helper, our intuition presents significant opportunity. Imagine if you responded with a question instead of correction to a teenager cussing or expressing anger. What if we interpreted inconsistencies in a story as a place to express curiosity instead of accusation?

Our intuition is a strong tool for the helper. If you sense something is off, you are probably right. Or, at least you have the opportunity to be proven wrong.

All you have to do is ask.

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

Markers

I was recently in Oklahoma City to train a group of youth ministers.  With some extra time, I made a stop at the Murrah Federal Building Bombing Memorial and Museum. What caught my eye more than anything else were the two gates erected at either end of the memorial. The first reads 9:01, the minute before the bomb exploded. The second reads 9:03. The explanation marker says it was designed to represent all of the time before the explosion and then the moment healing begins.

Pause for a minute and let it sink in – a gate dedicated to the moment healing began.

Scripture tells about the Israelites erecting stones to remember the crossing of the Jordan. Therapists create memory boxes with clients experiencing grief. People have sentimental key rings or stuffed animals or pieces of jewelry, such as wedding rings, to commemorate major life events.

We call these markers.

Tragic events themselves become markers of pain and loss, forever etched in our memory.  For those of us old enough, we remember exactly what we were doing September 11, 2001.  But for those of us who insist life won’t end in tragedy, it becomes imperative to plant the stones that claim healing.

The impact of a conversation that creates a turn. The tears that finally come when we are allowed to feel our true feelings. The first kind word in a long time. Finally finding a safe space.

What markers will we plant when we decide that our loss will not have the last word?

Unfortunately, creating markers does not always come naturally for me. It was not something I was taught when growing up and have had to learn to navigate on my own. And I have found that, without markers, it is easy to forget.

And yet, despite missing some, the markers I have deeply matter. They remind me of shifts in my life that dramatically changed me. From my wedding day, to the day my girls were adopted, to the people who prayed over me and my child after we heard the doctor say the word “epilepsy.” They are days of change, but more importantly, they are times when healing began.

What are the 9:03 gates in your life? The moment healing began after life took an unexpected turn? Are you pointing out to others the events that may be markers for them when you see it? Are you teaching your children and the youth you interact with to erect markers that help them remember?

Because sometimes children, youth and adults alike all need to know and remember the exact time healing began.

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

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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.

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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?