Great Holiday Expectations

Great Holiday Expectations

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – or at least it’s supposed to be. Trees are decorated, lights are strung, stockings are hung, lists are made, and parties are planned. Emotions can skyrocket to the highest highs and then crash all in one week.

Last year for Christmas, my 6-year old provided me her Christmas list. At the top was an iPhone. I initially just laughed it off, but as the season progressed, the iPhone quickly became the only thing on her list. So, about 2 ½ weeks before Christmas, I put on my Grinch face and told her that she wasn’t getting an iPhone for Christmas. She laughed and told me, “It’s okay.” I was shocked. She had been talking about it non-stop for weeks. Noticing my surprise, she added, “I asked Papa for an iPhone, and Papa always gets me what I ask for.”

Oh, expectations.

It’s a season full of expectations.

Expectations of ourselves. Expectations of others. Expectations in the form of gifts and Christmas lists. Expectations about family interactions. Expectations about memories to be made and thank-you’s to be given and received. Expectations about traditions.

Expectations can be overwhelming for children, youth, and adults alike during the Holidays. Often, they present themselves in the form of deregulated, unusual, or frustrating behaviors in our young people. Older children and youth often aren’t able to immediately convey how these expectations impact them, but if you take a step back then you can see.

You can see it in the teen who struggles with depression this time of year. Or the youth whose behavior spirals downward as they struggle to manage the anticipation of Christmas approaching. You see it in the young adult striving toward perfection this season in order to balance the pressures of extended family being around. Or in the child who struggles with the memories of happy Christmases with a person whose loss of relationship is still fresh. You can see it in the teen mom who is trying to balance her own wants with the desires of her child and for her child.

In addition to expectations we place on ourselves or have placed on us, there are all these other expectations around, often propelled through TV and social media. My holiday season doesn’t actually look like the commercials. Nor does it look like Instagram. There isn’t snow falling outside (thanks, Texas) as we all sit and laugh by the fireplace. There isn’t a long table filled with extended family members who are all using their manners and talking about non-controversial topics. There will be no new Lexus. My kids and their cousins aren’t wearing matching, Christmas coordinated outfits as they play kindly together with their new toys.

There’s an old proverb that says, “Expectations are just premeditated resentments.” At first, I wasn’t sure if I agreed. But the more I reflected on it, the more I realized how true it is, in normal everyday life, but especially during the holidays. Chasing expectations or trying to live up to others’ can be a holiday joy killer. For ourselves and for our families. For the students we work with. The gift might not be perfect. That family member might not come. There might be fighting when the willingness to play nice wears off. The money might not be enough, or the dread of impending debt can be crippling.

Flash back to the iPhone conversation. I quickly explained again to my daughter that I was not getting her a phone and neither was Papa. She was devastated. However, had the expectation of the phone continued to grow for 2 ½ more weeks, the devastation would have grown as well. With the expectations of an iPhone now put to rest, my daughter was able to enjoy the gifts she did receive without the disappointment on Christmas morning.

So, what can we do to help manage expectations this Christmas? Here are some simple questions for yourself and the youth you work with:

      1. For yourself: What expectations placed on you by others are weighing you down this year? Who do you need to let down gently? What personal expectations do you need to lower or adjust?
      2. For youth that might be struggling this holiday: What are their plans for the holidays? What are they anticipating about the holidays? What they are nervous about or dreading during Christmas?

Sometimes our youth seem hyper-expectant and overtly emotional, and other times they seem to blow off the holidays in apathy. My experience has been that all still feel the pressure of expectations. It has also been my experience that talking to them about their interpretation of expectations can be freeing for them and allows us to see what needs or struggles exist.

As you head into this season, start by checking your own expectations and then helping those around you understand their own expectations. You might just be surprised at how it changes Christmas.

 

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.
How to Create an Inviting Environment

How to Create an Inviting Environment

It’s Thanksgiving Day! Many of us are rejoicing, thankful for the break from school and work and excited for time with family. Some of us are exhausted from the travel it took to get where the family is gathering or are emotionally drained because the Holidays remind us of the loss of a loved one. Still others are dreading the time spent with extended family. The stress and tension of years of unresolved issues makes it so hard to endure the time together, anxiously waiting for the moment when we are back sleeping in our own beds.

If you can relate to that last one, this post is especially for you. If it is not you, hopefully it will help you process through how you are creating an environment that your kids long to be a part of.

Even though I am not to the point of having adult children yet, I can tell you this is something my wife and I are thinking about often. It is also something I can speak to from the experience of feeling welcome at my in-laws home while I don’t at my parents’ home.

The core conversation here is about what environment you are creating that is so inviting that your teenager doesn’t want to go somewhere else during the Holidays. Isn’t that what we want to create for our kids so they will love being around when they are adults?

This question came to mind the other day when I was being interviewed on a Dallas radio station and someone called in and asked what you can do when a teen chooses to rebel and gets pulled away by gangs or a negative community that we know will lead them to a place they do not want to go (such as drug users). What a tough question to address! But I believe there is an answer and it begins with us as the adults.

So here are some ideas on how you can create the most engaging, exciting and safe place for your kids to be.

 

  • Stop talking negatively about your family in front of your kids. For some of us this is hard. There is so much emotion attached to our parents or siblings that it is hard to filter, and it just comes out. Think about it this way. Since our kids are highly influenced by the behavior we model, are we teaching them to talk badly about us by doing that with other family members? I want to be very aware of the way I, instead, model respect for my family so they learn that, even when it is hard, it is still right to have respect and love for family. It’s exactly what I want them to do for me.

 

  • It’s not the tradition that matters, it’s the consistency at each gathering that makes it meaningful. My wife is amazing, and one reason is because she leads our family in writing down something we are thankful for each day during the month of November. But the key is the flexibility she allows to make it possible. Some years we have taken the time to create a whole tree with “thankful leaves” on it, and other years we simply write them in her journal (even though we sometimes have to catch up after 3 or 4 days of not writing them down). The best part is our kids now remind us when we didn’t write them down and even get excited that November is coming so we will get to write our “thankfuls” down every day.

 

  • Try not to make them do it. If you are forcing your kids participate, it may be the wrong activity for your family, or maybe they just need you to help them see why it is important. The important thing here is to remember it is a long-term effect you are wanting. So changing the activity to find the right one will be worth it once they are bought into it being a part of what it means to be in your family.

 

  • Remember, they will talk about it the way you do. If you complain that the years they were growing up were crazy and hard and no one liked being around each other, that is how they will remember it, too. If, instead, we strive to point out the good things we remember and what we learned from the hard times, those will be the memories that rise to the top for all of us. I am reading The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch Holocaust survivor. Re-reading her story reminds me of the horrific experiences she had to endure, and yet she was ultimately able to see the good that could come from it. In a similar way, we can teach our teenagers to do the same.

 

I hope this Thanksgiving you will look for the ways you can begin to create an environment in your family, at home and around special events that your kids don’t want to miss out on.

 

How have you seen this happen? What can you share with the rest of us about how to create these spaces? I look forward to hearing from you!

Ricky Lewis is our CEO and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
Disconnected in an Overly Connected World

Disconnected in an Overly Connected World

The distractions in our lives are overwhelming. We are constantly attempting to keep up with the whole world and our own lives, which often leads to us feeling like failures. It is IMPOSSIBLE to stay connected IRL (in real life) when we are connected online 24/7. We have phones, tablets, computers, gaming systems, all loaded down with apps to keep us from having to interact with an actual person. The lack of connections we feel IRL often leads to feelings of depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
 

There are three major areas that have been connected to why people have become disconnected IRL:

  1. Social Media lies to us. Constantly. Friends post pictures of achievements. Photoshopped Instagrams make us feel ugly. Snapchats of being happy with a significant other can make us feel lonely. Picture perfect families and homes that are posted make us feel lesser than. Teens and adults alike fall into the trap of the lies that we all share online. Teens are constantly racing to stay popular online with the most likes, re-Tweets, shares, followers, and it is IMPOSSIBLE to keep up with the ever-changing status quo of the online world. Attempting to keep up with social media lies can make teens feel depressed or withdrawn from the people who support them.
  2.  

  3. Information overload. Having a constant stream of information easily accessed from literally the entire world is unhealthy and is often depressing. I personally have quit following news on my social media accounts because it would ruin my day constantly seeing the heart breaking stories of death, bombs, natural disasters, etc. Teens are not only dealing with their daily interactions, but the lies of social media, and the often negative news. Attempting to process information that is a) unnecessary to our everyday lives and b) may or may not be accurate information is overwhelming, which can lead to feelings of depression or anxiety. We all need to take a break from the negative overload of information forced fed to us on our social media accounts.
  4.  

  5. Followers Friends. Researchers have found that there is a negative emotional connection between how many online friends we have versus our real life happiness. What does that mean? It means that when a person becomes more obsessed with how many friends they have online, the less happy they are in real life, especially for teens and young adults. This complete obsession with social media followers leads to real life relationships being lost by the wayside because teens lose the ability to communicate in real life. Not being able to communicate about emotions without emojis is a serious issue that should be addressed and is why educating teens on communication is a core tenet of Teen Life.

 
I have found the best way to combat the depression, anxiety, and loneliness that comes from social media is to disconnect for at least one hour a day. This can be scary, especially for teens who are falling for the lies, being overloaded, and are concerned about followers. Disconnecting from all electronics and all social media for an hour a day can lead to us finding new ways of connecting in real life, recharging our brains to be better able of seeing through the lies, and can help improve our moods.

 

If you want to hear more about this subject, check out this eight minute video that truly highlights what is going on when we have an obsession with our social media.

Shelbie Fowler is currently an intern for Teen Life while completing her Master’s in Family Studies. She is passionate about being an advocate for family life education in order to grow families stronger.
The 1% Principle

The 1% Principle

The points of my life where I am the most frustrated and discontent are the points where progress halts. I’ve never been a productivity guy, as in rigid schedule keeping or meeting long-term goals, but my general hope is that I am moving in a positive direction and improving various aspects of my life.

In so many ways, this is why I love my work with Teen Life as a Support Group leader. We get to sit with students week after week and talk about what could be better and challenge ourselves to go out and do the work it takes to make it happen. Often these gains are small, but they mean a lot.

Which is why I was struck by a productivity philosophy relatively unknown outside of business schools and self-help circles – The Kaizen Method. Roughly translated (from Japanese) it means “continuous slow improvement”.

The method came into western consciousness after World War II when American automobile makers visited a Toyota automobile plant to research why they were so efficient and error-free in their production lines. Up to this point, American automobile assembly lines were notoriously sloppy and wasteful.

What they found was surprising – essentially any worker on the assembly line had been given the authority to stop the production line if they saw a mistake or flaw in the work, address the issue, then start production again. And on top of that, any worker had the agency to point out flaws in the overall system or even minor details that would make things better.

This is no small deal. Traditionally, outsourcing feedback to assembly line workers was unheard of, and stopping a production line could be costly. Was it really necessary? Couldn’t these small changes be made in ways that kept the production line moving?

When you compare Japanese vehicles to American ones in that time period, the quality and vehicle output were not even close. By far, Japanese vehicles ran farther, had greater overall customer satisfaction, and held greater value than American cars.

And all of this was attributed to the Kaizen Method – the idea that quality products and healthy growth happens not from great individual leaps, but more from small, incremental growth – consistent over time.

When workers were given freedom to fix small problems, flaws in the system were noted in real time and fixed. In American factories, production lines never stopped so if there was a problem, they wouldn’t know until they had to strip down a car and start all over again. Problems were never fixed and the end result was a complete mess.

After this method was uncovered, productivity experts started to apply this principle to self-improvement. The idea manifested in several ways, but one way really stands out – the 1% improvement principle.

The idea is if you really want to develop a habit or get better at something, you need to do so at a very slow pace. Basically, you aim to get 1% better or more regular at doing something each day. And, it actually starts that way if you are starting from scratch.

For example, if you don’t read regularly and you want to, you would start by reading 1 minute a day, then 2 minutes the next, and so on. You are allowing your brain to feel small successes while also building habits over time. So often we want to start a healthier lifestyle by radically changing what we do or going “cold turkey”. But with this principle, we prevent our brain from getting overloaded and stressed – allowing for healthy change over a long period of time.

This works in our support groups with teenagers and my guess is it can work for you. Here are some tips:

  • Choose one thing you want to do differently or better in the coming month. Only choose one thing.
  • Start day one with a small expression of what you want to be doing well in a month. An example would be if you want to save more money than you spend, spend one less dollar on something you normally would. Or, go on a one minute walk.
  • Make sure you schedule that minute or small activity. Even though it is small, it needs to be scheduled so you do it.
  • Add small increments on top of it. Map it out over a month so you can see your progress.
  • Finally, don’t feel guilty for such small steps. You are working on life change, not just trying something new. These things take time, and any time you give is a step in a positive direction.
Chris Robey, Teen Life’s COO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
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.