Choosing Kind

Choosing Kind

“When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.” – Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

Before the holidays began this year, a new movie called Wonder premiered based on a book of the same title written by R.J. Palacio. This is a story about a middle-school boy named Auggie who has a facial deformity and struggles to learn to trust new friends as he begins his journey in a public school setting. He is bullied, shamed, and loses a bit of his child-like trust on this journey. More importantly though, Wonder reveals through several narrators how one act of kindness by one person can make ripples throughout an entire student population. This story really left me wondering about the way I treated my peers growing up and even now. I have asked myself, “Have I chosen kind over being right?” The answer is not always.

R.J. Palacio wrote this story after her own child had an encounter with a girl with a facial deformity, and her response was to remove her crying toddler and leave. Since that moment, she has felt guilt and anger about her actions. Why? Because she missed out on an opportunity to show her child how to react in kindness. She missed out on a moment to teach her child that just because someone looks different from us, our first response should never be to run away, even though that is often easier. We should choose kindness, even in uncomfortable moments.

The interesting part about how she tells the story of Wonder is that it is based on the children’s perspectives. The adults are shown through the eyes of their children which helps us understand a little more about what is being modeled in their homes. The bully in this story is shown with his parents one time, and that one moment is enough insight for us to see that he has only been told that he is never good enough. We see how a friend’s home life is nothing but a mother who drinks and is never there to support her. This friend ends up lying all the time and distancing herself from what she sees as a ‘perfect family’. These are teaching moments for how quick we are to judge others, to be right, and to justify our actions, but we are often slow to choose kindness.

Wonder does an excellent job of setting up on how our negative reactions can bring another person down. As Auggie struggles to cope with overtly negative interactions, he becomes distant, sad, and disinterested in things he enjoys. The thing that changes him slowly is when one person makes a choice to sit with him at lunch. That’s it. One person showed up and started a ripple effect. I know it may seem like a fantastical set up, that only one person can have an impact, but according to relationship experts, multiple positive interactions with one person can actually make up for negative interactions.

The magical ratio for positive to negative interactions is 5:1 and was originally developed by John Gottman. This ratio means that for every 1 negative interaction, it takes 5 positive interactions to overcome that 1 negative moment. How powerful is it that to overcome one negative comment we need five positive comments to feel better? Our human nature calls for us to need positive interactions on an emotional, physical, and spiritual level in order to thrive. Otherwise we simply struggle to cope as Auggie does in Wonder. I have no doubt that we can all remember a person who has hurt us and never made up for it in some way, those memories are more prominent because we need positivity to continue on. One moment of kindness changes everything within us.

Teenagers are primed to be shown how to be kind, what steps it takes to stand up to for themselves or for others, and the majority want to do what is kind but may be intimidated. Wonder talks about ‘precepts’ and how these are words to live by, they’re kind of like life quotes that reflect a person’s values. I think the easiest step to take in making a decision to be kind is to choose our own precept and then encourage teens to find theirs. R.J. Palacio even wrote a companion book to Wonder all about precepts because she believes it is important enough for everyone to understand how our thoughts speak into our words, and our words are turned into actions.

NPR did a quick interview with R.J. Palacio on her inspiration which I touched on briefly.

This link gives more insight into how the 5:1 ratio can be applied in a classroom like setting.

Shelbie Fowler is currently a volunteer for Teen Life and has her Masters in Family Studies. She is passionate about being an advocate for family life education in order to grow families stronger.
For the Thin Times

For the Thin Times

Recently I was indulging my inner nerd and took in The Lord of the Rings – since it’s on Netflix right now. There was a quote from Bilbo Baggins at the beginning of the movie right before he left the shire to go on his final adventure:

“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”

These words can resonate with most people, and I could say many times in life would relate to this, but I felt an especially strong connection to the sentiment. It’s really a vivid description of what it feels like to have yourself pulled in multiple directions – you feel thin, stretched, incomplete, and a little scraped for extra measure.

Like so many others, we feel like there is not enough to go around. But for me, there is a deeper, more difficult issue at work. And, I think it was at work in Bilbo as well.

The context of the quote was Bilbo wanting to escape his hometown and not deal with the things he knew he needed to engage. He wanted to finish his book, do his own thing, and he perceived his hometown as an obstacle to any of that. So, he conjured up excuses so he could escape – in dramatic fashion to boot (I’d love to have a magic ring like that).

That’s the problem for so many of us. We get truly overwhelmed or overstretched because we are actually just avoiding the things we need to be doing. In fact I’d go so far to say a lot of the things we think are keeping us busy are not even real or true – just something that keeps us distracted.

You want proof? As I’m writing this blog I have found numerous ways to distract myself from actually getting this done. It’s not that I dislike writing, but to create something like a blog takes work, concentration, and dedication – all things that are easily neutralized by a peek at Twitter.

Ok, I’m back again. So what was I saying? Oh yeah – distractions….

You see, just like Bilbo, I do feel stretched but I need to be honest with myself about what that actually means. Do I have too much going on? Or are the things I have in my life all important enough to keep around? The truth is if I eliminated some of the things that keep me distracted, it would force me to actually engage in more important, meaningful work.

Bilbo probably needed to stay in his hometown, deal with his family issues, and just write his book. As Seth Godin puts it, maybe we don’t need more butter – we just need less bread to spread it across.

Teenagers are on the front lines of feeling thin. Many have 7-8 completely different subjects to deal with every day at school, let alone the social and emotional pressures of adolescence. And, they are kind of thrust into it. So many report feeling anxious and frustrated with their situation and will start to struggle.

So for them (and us), how can we feel less thin as we navigate a complicated world? A few ideas…

  1. Find your space – whether it is an outdoor walk, time to read and reflect, a good workout, or prayer time – and make it a priority. These are the times where priorities begin to shift because you actually have time to think.
  2. Quit or suspend one of your social media accounts. Wait, what? Yeah, give it a try. Don’t worry, it will be there if you have to break the glass and pull the lever. Those things never go away. See how it feels to live without a Facebook account for a while. You might actually like it.
  3. Examine what is actually keeping you busy vs. what actually needs to be accomplished. This takes honesty and time but would be worthwhile. Make a list, a Venn diagram, something that works for you.

As loving adults in the lives of teenagers, we need to communicate a sense of peace in the chaos. Yes, we have so much going on, but we also have the opportunity to model what it looks like to know what is truly important – for the thin times.

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

Worry Is The Answer

Do you worry? I do.

Is your goal to remove all of the worry in your life? It has been mine for most of my life.

I still distinctly remember the fear and worry in college of not knowing what was next. I even remember telling people closest to me, “I wish God would send a postcard with instructions so I know I’m making the right choice.” First, there was a flaw in my thinking that the choice was about what I should do rather than who I am. A lesson I have learned from many respected mentors and leaders like John Maxwell, Michael Hyatt, and others.

In our world today, there is a lot of talk about removing barriers, stress, anxiety and roadblocks. While this is often necessary, when it becomes our full focus and effort, we can lose an opportunity to understand where to find answers by moving too quickly past a learning opportunity.

No doubt this is not a new idea. I am sure it has formed out of the reading and listening I have done, especially the past 5 years. By listening to other successful people, new ideas come to light and clarity is gained. That being the case, this time it was a conversation with my 10 year old that brought the important piece to the surface.

I get to take my son to school daily. This is some great time spent together that I am thankful for. This particular day, I asked him two questions I ask two or three times a week.

“What are you looking forward to at school today?”

“What are you worried about today?”

This time he had a specific thing he was worried about. The elementary spelling bee was coming, and he had been invited to participate and was tasked with studying the word list. His worry was that he was not going to do well during the event because he had not been studying. Without really thinking I said, “You don’t have to worry about that. If you haven’t been studying, you won’t do well. So no need to worry, you already know.” This may sound harsh, but he understood what I meant as I went on to explain that if he isn’t studying, he should expect to not do well. But also that if he is worried and knows studying could help, he can choose. He can either not study and expect to not do well or study and be proud he did his best no matter what happens at the Bee. Either way, the worry is dealt with and not just ignored.

I think the lesson here is that we want to remove worry or ignore it, but it is possible that the worry may be revealing some useful information that could help us move to the next level.

So here are my suggestions for dealing with worry in your life and mine, not just removing it.

  1. Listen to the worry. Don’t dismiss it too quickly. You may miss an important indication that leads you to just the right answer you are looking for.
  2. Seek others’ input. We all need people around us to help us in life, especially through difficult times. Find a trusted advisor or mentor and confide in them what is worrying you and see if they can help you gain some clarity about the direction you need to head.
  3. Don’t let the worry turn into fear. I cannot count the number of things I have missed out on because I let worry turn into fear and defeat me from accomplishing something before I even started. I am working hard to reduce the number of times this happens in my life, and I hope you will too.
  4. Make a plan to process the worry. Maybe have a dedicated journal or app to record what is worrying you, and then spend time processing what you might be able to learn from the worry.
  5. Don’t hesitate to ignore worry when it isn’t helpful. Even though there are times this mentality can be helpful, we face a lot of worry in life, and the reality that much of it is not worth our attention is worth recognizing. So when you worry about things out of your control or that are unrealistic, simply say to yourself, “I’m choosing to worry about the things that matter.”

I’ll leave you with this. My son did participate in the spelling bee and he did pretty good, too. He actually did really good! He placed 3rd! Out of nearly 40 students in grades 3-5 at his school, he had the courage, stamina and focus to spell words I’ve never heard of correctly. Was it my comment that made the difference? Probably not as much as I would like to think, but the principle and mental perspective to think differently about what he needed to do, I hope, was helpful.

 

So what in your life have you ignored or tried to remove that could actually have some benefit or provide you with some insight as to how to take your next step and maybe even what that step should be? Let us know!

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.
Making A Better 2018

Making A Better 2018

During my last support group of the semester, we discussed 2018. One student, a senior and a teen mom, shared that she was more motivated than ever to graduate on time in May. Her son is only a few months old, and childcare is an ongoing challenge for her. Even though her path is far from easy, she was excited for what the new year would bring.

Are you excited?

Many of us spend this time of year reflecting on where we want to be. Statistics says that almost half of us will be setting resolutions and goals for 2018. Among the most common goals are: I will exercise every day and eat healthy. I will read one book a month. I will budget my money better. I will get organized. I will travel.

According to Nielsen Analytics Firm, “Only 14 percent of people over 50 actually achieve their resolution, compared to 39% of people in their 20’s.” Many times, people in the 15-24 year-old range have a reputation for not being consistent or not being motivated. However, that just isn’t the case. Students and young adults are willing to take risks and to follow through on those risks. Resolutions are a perfect example of this.

The older we get, the more we allow scars of the past and fear masked as wisdom to get in the way of achieving our goals. We get into our routines and ruts. We insulate ourselves. Our dreams and goals become safer, tamer, less challenging, or perhaps even less world-changing. We don’t have to push ourselves to change, and no one will force it upon us. We calculate our risks and then discuss all of the pros and cons before making a commitment. We often fail to reach them, and in turn become a bit disenchanted with goal-setting.

However, the teen moms I have in my support group each week are more than willing to take risks and follow through with commitments in order to achieve success. What can we learn from them? The mom I mentioned, who is excited and driven to graduate on time, is a great example. She knows that it helps both her and her child in the future for her to do so. Financial difficulties and lack of sleep, among other challenges, are not deterring her. She knows what she wants and knows the path she will need to walk this year in order to achieve her goals. And I believe that she will succeed.

As you make resolutions for 2018, or even if you don’t plan to make any, take a minute and take a page from the students and young adults around you. Encourage your children or the students you interact with each day or week. Ask them what their goals are, and push them to reach for their dreams this year. Statistically, they are more likely to succeed, and they will remember who cheered them onward and who the naysayers were. Pursue your own dreams with zest and passion, and don’t allow the potential risks or the fear of failure prevent you from moving toward an amazing 2018.

 

What are your goals for this year? How can you help the teens in your life reach their full potential in 2018? We are wishing you a Happy New Year full of opportunities and possibilities!

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.
New Technology, New Threats

New Technology, New Threats

Our world is constantly coming up with new ways of advancing technology and bringing it into our homes. Children have robots that can talk and play with them. Teens have smartphones constantly glued to their hands. The majority of the working population is online 8-10 hours a day. In my home, we have to make a conscious effort to not be on a screen when we are spending time together. I know we are not alone in the struggle to disconnect from our screens and connect with each other.

This is a list of helpful resources and ideas that I have put together through, experience, research, and education on online safety:

  1. Create boundaries: know what is and is not okay to share online. We need to teach teens that their address, where they go to school, and even where they work is information that can make it easier to be found by people who may be dangerous. It is much better when they have their accounts set to private. Talk about what types of pictures can be shared on media, even SnapChat. Images last longer than most of us wish online; show them the consequences of having inappropriate pictures shared. Understanding why safety is necessary online is an essential step in helping teens feel responsible for what they say and do online.
  2. Have tech free time: the whole family should disconnect at least weekly to create real life connections. Take a walk, play a board game, make a meal, eat at a table screen-free, do anything to show that you are interested in what teens have to say. Teens are observant and will react to adults putting their screens away. It may be difficult to give up our screens, but it can lead to deeper relationships and more conversation, especially when everyone participates. Don’t believe me? Watch this video from Today to see for yourself how teens felt after giving their phones up for a week.
  3. Model how to act online: talk about what is helpful versus harmful to share online. We have all seen comments of harassment, cyberbullying, and people committing crimes on live stream. Teens react to these situations all the time. The pressure to bully or harass others online can be overwhelming and many teens do not know how to report the behavior or get scared they will get in trouble. We all need to be vigilant in sharing what is appropriate and how to report harmful behaviors online. What we tend to forget is that there are real people on the other side of comments with feelings that are stomped on when we post negative, harassing comments. Teen Life works at helping teens recognize and use empathy in situations, but we should all be aware that we say online can have a lasting impact on a life.

 

Here are some links to some awesome and free resources that can be used by anyone to keep their families safe in this overly connected world:

    • Google has Family Link which creates an account for your children but is fully linked to your account & lets you manage settings.
    • Google also has a Safety Center that has great resources that can be utilized.
    • ReThink is an app that has the potential to help ourselves from making a potentially life-changing mistake by detecting cyberbullying.

 

What apps and resources have you used to help yourself and your teen be responsible with technology? Try some of the resources we’ve listed above, and let us know how it goes!

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.
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.