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.

Who Are Your People?

Who Are Your People?

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

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

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

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

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

We are wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

The Road to Self Discovery

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

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

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

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

It has been a game changer as a parent.

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

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

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

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

 

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

The Masquerade

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

Masks.

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

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

We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.

 

Why should the world be over-wise,

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

We wear the mask.

 

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

The same things could be said about us as adults.

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

5 Conversations to Have As School Starts

5 Conversations to Have As School Starts

I originally wrote this post two years ago with 3 conversation starters, but I want to revisit and add a couple of conversations that I believe will be helpful. So buckle up, school is here!

 


 

It is that back-to-school time of the year again!

I can hear the cheers and tears from the Teen Life office. Whether you are looking forward to getting back to a routine, wondering how your baby has grown into a high school senior, or are trying to figure out how your youth ministry is going to hold up against football season – you have a role to play in this upcoming school year!

Before teenagers start back at their middle or high schools, or the graduates leave home to start their college adventures, take time to have bold, encouraging conversations! You have an opportunity to help students set goals and think about where they want to be at the end of this 2018-2019 school year.

By having healthy conversations (check out this blog post), this school year can get off to a great start from the very first day! Here are some goals to help teenagers think about as they start school:

 

Grades

Grades are important. They help you graduate high school and get scholarships for college. They are a reflection of what you have learned and how hard you have worked at a particular subject.

However, grades don’t define your student or their worth. Students will put pressure on themselves about what kind of grades they should be making before you say a word. Instead of starting out the school year with a lecture about responsibility, finishing homework before video games, or the consequences for poor test grades, ask your student these questions:

  • What do you want your grades to look like at the end of this school year?
  • If you improved your grades and school work from last year, what would that look like?
  • How can I help you succeed this school year?

If you allow them to set their own goals, they will take more ownership in their school work. Instead of working toward your expectation, they will be stepping up to the standards they set for themselves – what better lesson could you teach a teenager? Help them set realistic goals and hold them accountable throughout the year with {friendly} reminders. Don’t expect your B student to make a 4.0 this school year, but encourage them to improve and continue to grow!

 

Friends

As you know, friends and peers have a huge influence during teenage years. They can impact grades, decisions, activities and attitude. While they are old enough to choose their own friends, as the adult, it is okay for you guide them in these choices. When it comes to friendships they have at school, start a conversation by asking these questions:

  • What relationship last year provided the most encouragement?
  • How do your friendships impact your performance at school or in extracurriculars?
  • Are their any relationships that provided drama or stress? What can you do to make that relationship healthier?

They probably aren’t going to react well if you ban them from hanging out with their best friend. But maybe you can open up the door for healthy conversation if you ask them to share first. Teenagers are smarter than we often give them credit for! If they are in an unhealthy relationship, let them talk through what that looks like and what they could do to either get rid of the friendship or set up healthier boundaries.

 

Extracurriculars 

It seems like today’s teenagers are busier than ever. Not only are they expected to go to school during the week and church on the weekends, but they also have to be involved in multiple extracurriculars, join school clubs and complete crazy amounts of service hours.

That is what colleges expect, right?

Extracurriculars are good and character building, but it is important for students to set goals not only on how to better themselves through these activities, but also how to find margin and rest in the midst of their busy schedules. Especially if you are talking to a teenager who is involved in multiple sports, activities or volunteer opportunities, encourage them to set healthy goals by asking these questions:

  • How many extracurriculars do you think you’ll have time for with school and other responsibilities?
  • How can you improve and use these experiences to help you in the future?
  • What can you do to make time for rest, friends and fun?

Have them prioritize their activities – there may be some new opportunities that arise this year, but if it passes what they can handle, it is not worth taking it on. They are teenagers, but they are still allowed to have fun! Please don’t allow your teenager to live like an adult. Help them take advantage of the freedom and fun that comes with adolescence. If they feel like they need to give up an activity to better balance their time, help them make the decision that is best for them (even if it means giving up that sport you love).

 

Physical, Mental, & Spiritual Health

Coming off the last conversation, it is so important for teenagers to take care of themselves! While culture is talking more about mental health, we cannot ignore it in our homes, churches or schools!

Please make sure you are having these conversations with your teen. Are they aware of signs of depression or suicide in themselves or friends? Are they motivated to improve in any of these areas? This conversation could be touchy or emotional, and is really three conversations, but don’t shy away from it! Start with these questions:

  • Do you feel like you have someone you can talk to about health? Especially mental and spiritual health? Who is that person?
  • What would you do if a friend came to you with a health concern?
  • What could you do this school year to improve in each of these areas? How could we help you accomplish your goals?

Be willing to ask your teen about the current state of their physical, mental, and spiritual health. Do they want to change anything? How can you help? Can you get them a gym membership or cook healthier meals? Could you help them seek the guidance of a counselor? Does one of their friends need a trusted adult to talk to? Can you start a family Bible Study? Consider what they need for themselves and from you.

 

Boundaries

Teenagers are trying to find identity and values at this phase of life. As the adults in their lives, it is our job to guide and teach while also giving them a safe space to try and sometimes fail. Teens won’t be perfect – I wasn’t at that age and definitely still make plenty of mistakes! However, we can help them set some boundaries in place to protect and direct as they gain the confidence and understand they need to truly succeed.

Maybe boundaries look like a curfew, or a time restraint on social media or Netflix. Maybe they want to limit how often they hang out with a certain friend or which event they want to avoid. Let them start the conversation and try not to jump in at the beginning with what you think is best. Here are a few questions to get this final conversation started:

  • What personal boundaries would help you succeed this school year?
  • How likely are you to say, “No!” when someone crosses your boundaries?
  • How do you think the boundaries we have set could be helpful? Are their any boundaries you have concerns about?

The beginning of school is a great time to talk about boundaries and expectations for the school year. Some rules will change over the years, and some will stay consistent. Some teenagers will even have intelligent boundaries that they want to set for themselves – give them that opportunity!

 


 

You have the power and the opportunity to help teenagers see their future and set goals to reach it. Ask good questions, listen with empathy and work together to set realistic goals that will allow them to not only enjoy but also take advantage of their teenage years. These are great conversations to have at the beginning of school, but we also encourage you to revisit these topics – ask how they are doing with their goals and if anything has changed. This is just a starting place!!

Are you willing to have these conversations? Share what goals the teenagers you talk to set! How will you help hold them accountable?

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.
Citizenship & Community

Citizenship & Community

Citizenship.  For some, the word invokes images of Boy Scouts saying the pledge of allegiance or students volunteering at the library.   Most of us would define the word by a reference to service of some kind.  Many of us older adults mourn the loss of citizenship among our students.   Many think of citizenship as a product of a bygone era, no longer possible or practical among our digital generation of teens.

My son has been learning about citizenship in his martial arts class.  In each class, there is a simple lesson geared toward the 3 to 5 year-old students about picking up trash, saying hi to a new student in class, helping an elderly person who lives in your neighborhood, opening doors for others, etc.

As I listened to his instructor, I realized that while the stated character trait was citizenship, it was ultimately about community:  Who do you know? Who can you serve? Who do you need to add to your community?

Our youth need community as much as ever.  Too often, we get caught up in thinking that adolescence is about moving away from the family and friends a child has always known. In reality, adolescence is about forming identity within your own developing community – a new community that both includes and extends beyond the community you grew up knowing.  As adults working with teens, do we point our youth in the direction of where they could find community and a place to serve with their newly developing identities and gifts?

I have found that service, or citizenship, becomes a natural and organic outgrowth of people who have a place to belong.

A few ideas to help guide your teens as they seek to develop their own community:

  1. Create a community of adults that your child can talk to or spend time around. They can be all different ages and life stages, but they need to be a safe place where they are welcome, and loved, and can receive help and advice.
  2. Help youth identify their passion. Tell them what they are good at. Tell them what you see in them.  Encourage them to try out art, or music, or sports, or writing until they find their niche.
  3. Help teens find a place to serve. What are his/her interests? What do they want to explore? Who do they want to be around more? This could be in the context of a local non-profit or serving at a church. It could be a club/community group geared toward their interest. Community is built through service.
  4. Develop relationships with people from various cultures, religious backgrounds, and political belief systems. This allows the teens in your life to see that different people with different life experiences can all be at the same table.

 

Like with adults, community in adolescence doesn’t happen naturally. It takes work and showing up – something we as adults still need help our students with each day. But the benefits are worth it.  Youth who are plugged into a community, and who are serving there, have more opportunities to become successful, do better in school, and are more likely to believe that someone will be there for them if they need it.

Citizenship and Community are intertwined. How can you help the teen in your life find their place to live and serve?

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