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.
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.