A Few Words For Helpers

A Few Words For Helpers

I had an encounter with a situation recently that got me thinking about how we as adults can best help teenagers. A little context:

Upon arriving at my office, I had a friend of our organization waiting on me with a teenager sitting next to them. It was obvious there was something going on, so I sat down with them to talk through the issue.

It turns out the teenager wasn’t related to the adult, but the adult had a mentoring relationship with this teenager and knew their mom. In recent weeks the family situation had disintegrated and essentially this teenager was dumped on our friend and threats were made that the teenager was going to be kicked out of the house. So sitting in front of me was a well meaning adult, and an unrelated teenager who had nowhere else to go.

Tough doesn’t even start to describe this situation.

In fact I would argue these kinds of situations are the reason many adults don’t want to work with teenagers much outside of their own family situation.

It’s messy.

But the truth is, we need more. Teen Life has opportunities daily to interact with teenagers from all walks of life, cultural and religious background, and social status. Some have incredible families and support structures, while others have literally nothing. Some have advantage while others seem to have the world actively battling against them.

But the one thing they all have in common is this – they need support and presence from adults. No matter how well off they might seem, someone has to be there for them who have lived longer and has more life experience. This cannot be replaced.

Thinking back on our friend who came into our office, I think about how much they were trying to be supportive and available to a teenager who was losing everything. But, she was there. She showed up. What we talked about that morning would seem to help others as they help teenagers, so here it goes:

  1. Know your boundaries

Our friend was well meaning, but needed some help (and permission) to set boundaries not only with the teenager, but with their parents. Both were misbehaving badly and wanted someone to be a part of it. In the counseling world it is called “triangulation”. Simply, when people are in pain or at a loss they find someone else to project the stress they are feeling onto so it won’t hurt so bad or they won’t have to deal with the problem.

Boundaries are crucial when working with anyone, especially teenagers. They teach and protect. Knowing what you are wiling to do and where you need to stop can allow for a clear path through a difficult situation.

  1. De-escalate the situation

When you come upon a situation where there is stress, do everything you can to calm the stress. Find a way to create space for everyone to cool off. Go on a walk. Play with playdoh. Build something with legos. Write or draw. Listen to some music. As a helper, find a way to create safe space for clear thought. When teens and families are in a state of stress, clear communication and resolution is relatively impossible. Find a way to de-escalate and reduce the stress.

  1. Know your resources. 

Most communities have some support system in place with professionals and lay people equipped to serve vulnerable populations. Whether it be a local non-profit, faith community, or school, there is help to be found. Often for the helper of teenagers, their issues and demands can be daunting. But if you know there is help available, it helps you to stick around.

Typically these resources can be found either via web, call in services (like the National Suicide Prevention Hotline or 211), or by making a few phone calls to community leaders. Our experience has told us we are only a few phone calls from getting the resource we need. Don’t be afraid to make a few calls.

  1. Refer, refer, refer. 

I’m sure you are a smart person if you are willing to help a teenager but, you don’t know it all. Don’t be afraid, especially after having a working knowledge of the resources in your community, to refer to trusted sources. Bring the community in to help. Let them shoulder some of this load.

So in summary –

Know your boundaries,

De-escalate the situation,

Know your resources,

Refer, refer, refer.

What do you think about this? How have these ideas helped you in the past?

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s Program Director, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
What To Do After “13 Reasons Why”

What To Do After “13 Reasons Why”

*This is the third in a series of three blog posts this week regarding the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.” Check out the first two posts if you missed them!

Part 1 – The Good of “13 Reasons Why”

Part 2 – The Ugly of “13 Reasons Why”

Past 3 – What To Do After “13 Reasons Why”

 


 

Here’s the truth. 13 Reasons Why is a Netflix original show. It is entertainment. People have ranted and raved about whether it should or should not be out there. Well, all that attention means a second season is coming. This is a testament that any press is good press. It brought a lot of attention but to what end? I hope it promoted meaningful conversation between teens and adults, and I trust that this week we have encouraged more good discussion. That is why we wanted to end our blog series with this particular post.

One thing I felt was missing from the whole show was examples of people seeking out help and succeeding. Why is that? Is it that it would have taken away from the entertainment value? I don’t believe so. I think they missed a major opportunity to model for teenagers how to seek out helpful resources. The direction to a website in the opening of each episode was nice, but all that is there are crisis hotlines and links to click further and try to figure out how to get help. What would have been more effective, I believe, is showing in every episode some examples of someone successfully seeking and receiving help.

With that as the background for this post, the goal here is to give you, the reader, ideas and some direct resources to help a teen in the real world who is struggling. This should not be seen as a replacement for continued training or adhering to any law directing you how to respond. But rather, this post could be a reference tool to get you to the resources needed to be ready and have on hand if the time arises. Though, truth be told, all of us hope we never have to use these resources.

First, just the fact that there is a show about suicide is enough to bring up the discussion about such a serious topic. You don’t have to watch the show for that conversation to start. You could watch any number of shows if you need a starting place, but none of those are going to have the answers. Only an open and honest conversation about what your student is facing and needs will meet the desire for discussion that is there. So take the opportunity. Ask questions and invite conversation, then listen.

Second, look locally at what is available. In the Fort Worth area, there is a Suicide Awareness Coalition. Attending these monthly meetings has kept the conversation in front of me and our team and helped us not lose sight of the seriousness of the situation. In addition, there are often classes, seminars, or workshops you are able to attend. These are usually geared toward licensed professionals but can be attended by anyone. I have gained a lot of helpful connections and tools this way.

Third, personally check in on the resources. Call the national hotline yourself. Time how long the wait is. Make note of the prompts and be prepared to communicate those to someone you might need to share that resource with. Visit local organizations that offer services. Ask specific questions related to the things teens you work with have brought up. It is very helpful for you to simply be able to say, “I visited this place and the people there really want to help.” This is so helpful because many times people in a severely depressed state don’t believe anyone wants to help them, and they need a lot of reassurance from someone they trust. You want to be confident in the resources you are suggesting if you ever need to be that person.

Fourth, once you are equipped with information and resources, you will feel prepared if a situation happens. This happened for me just a few months ago. I had a friend call, and he was actively suicidal. I found this out by asking pointed questions like, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” and “Do you have a plan?” When the answer to these questions were both, “Yes!” We called the local crisis line together. I was so glad I had the number in my phone. They gave us some options of places to go, he picked one, and I took him there. I stayed for about 4 hours. Yes it took time, but I was so glad I stayed until he got medical attention and checked into a program to get help. I am convinced he would have killed himself if I had not been there.

Fifth, the last scenario you want to be prepared for is what to do if a teen you know does kill themselves or if a friend of theirs does. This is where the above resources come in. They will help you be prepared to reach out or be able to listen and ask helpful questions. Again, here locally there is a resource called LOSS Team. This is a volunteer led group that is available to survivors of suicide. They are specifically trained and equipped to help handle a loss. If you don’t have one in your community, reach out to local counseling services for groups or to a local church that may offer a resource. As with all grief, everyone handles a loss to suicide differently. It is important to know that grieving a suicide is different than other grief though. Knowing this is the important piece. Finding a resource specific to people who have lost someone to suicide is the ideal situation.

To be clear, what you are doing here is not equipping yourself to be the professional, long-term solution to help someone that is thinking about suicide. You are educating yourself to be a first line of defense, working in a preventative way to significantly reduce the number of students who end up in a place where they feel so hopeless they don’t know where to turn when they have suicidal thoughts. That’s right I said “when.” The truth is many of us, including myself, have thoughts of suicide at one time or another. The problem comes when we believe the lie that we are the only one, and that means we have no hope of recovery. Instead, we need someone like you to come alongside us and walk with us through that dark place until we get back to where we can find the reason for living again.

What is missing? What other resources are you aware of that can make a huge difference in helping teenagers as they navigate stress, anxiety and depression? Their struggle, or yours, does not ever neeed to end in suicide. Let’s pull together and raise awareness to end suicide all together. 

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.
The Truth on School Life & Successful Students

The Truth on School Life & Successful Students

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 In this episode of Season 3 of the Stay Calm, Don’t Panic! Podcast, Chris Robey talks to two school counselors about what they are currently seeing in our public schools. While Lindsey and Tammy both work at two very different schools, they give great insight into what students are facing and offer valuable advice on how we can support teenagers in order to make their school experiences more positive. School is a vital part of the teenage years, let’s discuss how we can help students be more successful!

In this episode, Lindsey and Tammy discuss…

  • Trends seen by school counselors
  • Common stressors that students face
  • The kind of support students can receive from school
  • Some qualities of successful students
Ask yourself…
  • Am I aware of current teen trends?
  • How can I help support my student’s school life at home?
Go ask a teen…
  • What is one small thing that would help make school better?
  • Do you know what resources are available to you at school?
Resources:

In this episode, we mentioned the following resources:

About Us:

Chris Robey is the Program Director for Teen Life. Earlier in his career while working as a youth minister, Chris earned a Masters Degree in Family Life Education from Lubbock Christian University to better equip his work with teenagers and families. Chris’ career and educational opportunities have exposed him to teenagers from a variety of backgrounds. Follow him on Twitter!

Karlie Duke started working as Teen Life’s Communications Director after graduating from Abilene Christian University with a degree in Communications with a minor in Family Studies. Karlie has worked with teenagers for the past 5 years and is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram!

Have a question?
If you have a question about something you heard or just want to give us some feedback, please leave us a comment below.  We would love to hear from you!
Lessons from “The Bad Kids”

Lessons from “The Bad Kids”

I am a huge fan of Netflix. In the mood for a comedy, drama, thriller or documentary? You can choose from thousands of TV shows and movies. While I typically watch Netflix for personal gain, I recently came across a documentary called The Bad Kids (you can also find it on iTunes and Amazon). I’ll confess – I am not a documentary person. Give me fiction and fairy tales all day! But this particular documentary intrigued me because I work with students just like the ones highlighted in this film. I work with “The Bad Kids” every week, and I wanted to see what I could learn from the heart and work of someone halfway across the country.

Before I go any farther, I would like to make a disclaimer that this post is not endorsing this film, saying that I agree with every part of documentary, or even asking you to go watch it. While an accurate portrayal of this population of students, there is extreme language used throughout the film. That being said, I found value in the methods and practices used by the film and believe that it is worth my time to share what I learned!

On their website, The Bad Kids summary is:

At a remote Mojave Desert high school, extraordinary educators believe that, more than academics,
it is love, empathy and life skills that give at-risk students command of their own futures. This coming-of-age
story watches education combat the crippling effects of poverty on the lives of these so-called “bad kids.”

It is so refreshing to see the media recognize excellent educators and administrators for the difficult work they do with students each and every week. We have the privilege of working with counselors, principals, teachers and staff who also believe that love, empathy and life skills can make a huge difference in the lives and academic careers of students – that is why they partner with us!

In this film, you see students who are in a tough place and deal with circumstances that most adults would struggle with. There is teen pregnancy, sexual assault, substance abuse, absent parents and so much more that they face in addition to their school responsibilities. There is no question that these “bad kids” have difficult lives (both by personal choices and unavoidable tragedy), but the Black Rock Continuation High School chooses to step in for these students who are at risk of dropping out of school completely.

While watching this film, I saw several important tactics that can not only benefit the work done with at-risk students but can be applied to any relationship with a teenager. One thing I have found in my work with Teen Life is that you don’t have to be a “bad kid” to desire love, empathy and help with challenges.

 

Teens need empathy.

For a refresher on empathy, please read my last blog post on the subject! But this documentary fully supports how much empathy and a listening ear matters to teenagers. At this particular High School, Principal Vonda Viland is a superb example of what empathy looks like and how it can affect a relationship. Students trust her, are honest with her and seek out her advice because they know that she will listen. And she doesn’t always have the answers. Sometimes, she admits that their life is difficult. And instead of subjecting them to a lecture she asks simple questions like, “What do you think needs to change? How would that decision affect your life? What needs to happen for you to get motivated?”

Empathy is a powerful tool.

Teens need to be held to a high standard.

Is life challenging for these teenagers or any teen in general? Absolutely. But they do not need to be babied or held to lower standards because of it. When you treat a teenager with respect and clear standards, they are more likely to rise to the occasion. I love that Principal Viland does not hold back any punches with her students. From their first day on her campus, she tells them what is expected and what the consequences are if these expectations are not met. She is not going to hold their hand, drag them out of bed or force them to come to school. But to stay in her school, students have to play by her rules and most do. In the film, you see so many students thrive under this straightforward approach. They know what to expect and what is expected of them.

When held to a high standard, teenagers have the opportunity to live up to their potential.

Teens need motivation.

Teens can be stubborn – but can’t we all? Most of the time, they don’t want to do something if it won’t benefit them in some way. And I understand that. I remember the frustrating days of learning about geometry and astronomy and wondering, “Will I ever use this information again?” What I love about The Bad Kids is that the teachers make an effort to put what they are learning into context for each student. For example, one of the boys loves music and playing his guitar but hates math. He is struggling and doesn’t see the point. Instead of getting defensive or giving up, his teacher puts it in perspective – you need math to play music. As she explains this concept, it clicks. He just needed the motivation to see past his current frustration and situation.

Motivation and inspiration could be the difference in a student graduating and dropping out.

 

Teens need celebration.

We need to celebrate our teenagers better! They are more likely to repeat good behavior when it is praised than to stop negative behavior when it is punished. Let’s be a positive force for our teens and get excited when they accomplish a goal. Principal Viland shows this all throughout the film. She celebrates when they come to school on a consistent basis. She even hands out certificates for completing credits and recognizes hard work in front of the entire school. She tells them when she sees improvements and recognizes when they avoid old habits. Celebration can be a small thing, but even something as small as a $5 gift card makes a huge impact on a teen who is trying to survive.

May we not get caught up in the bad things teens do, but intentionally look for ways to celebrate the good things!

Karlie Duke was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is our Communications Director. She is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories.
4 Ways Our Teen Friends Teach Us Courage

4 Ways Our Teen Friends Teach Us Courage

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 In this episode of the Stay Calm, Don’t Panic! Podcast, Chris Robey and Sarah Brooks discuss how adults can learn valuable lessons about courage and inner strength from teenagers. Teens are uniquely equipped and positioned to make a difference in the world. It is easy for us as adults to press our own agendas on teenagers, but maybe it is time to learn something from them! Take a listen to this awesome conversation and walk away with some insight into the awesome lives of teenagers. 

In this episode, Sarah Brooks discusses teenagers’ ability to teach…

  1. Courage to explore and be uniquely you.
  2. Courage to make friends.
  3. Courage to change the world.
  4. Courage to tell the truth.
Ask yourself…
  • What can I learn from teen courage?
  • How can I be intentional about diversifying my own relationships?
Go ask a teen…
  • How do you show courage in your everyday life?
  • What do you think it would take for the world to look better?
Resources:

In this episode, we mentioned the following resources:

About Us:

Sarah Brooks is a blogger, mom of 3 boys and social media expert! She has spoken across the country at various groups, churches, and schools about social media (the good, the bad, and the confusing), most of which stemmed from a post she wrote called Parents: A Word About Instagram. As a Millenial herself, she is passionate about bridging the gap between parents and teens. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram!

Chris Robey is the Program Director for Teen Life. Earlier in his career while working as a youth minister, Chris earned a Masters Degree in Family Life Education from Lubbock Christian University to better equip his work with teenagers and families. Chris’ career and educational opportunities have exposed him to teenagers from a variety of backgrounds. Follow him on Twitter!

Karlie Duke started working as Teen Life’s Communications Director after graduating from Abilene Christian University with a degree in Communications with a minor in Family Studies. Karlie has worked with teenagers for the past 5 years and is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram!

Have a question?
If you have a question about something you heard or just want to give us some feedback, please leave us a comment below.  We would love to hear from you!
3 Ways Stress Can Make Life Better

3 Ways Stress Can Make Life Better

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 In this episode of the Stay Calm, Don’t Panic! Podcast, Chris Robey and Ricky Lewis discuss the role of stress in the lives of teenagers and how stress can actually be beneficial. Unfortunately, stress is an unavoidable part of life, but Ricky gives great insight into how we can use stress to make life better. Don’t get caught up in stress, instead let’s be better equipped to see it as a positive part of life!

In this episode, Ricky Lewis discusses…

  1. Stress is always a part of life.
  2. Your belief about stress determines how it effects you.
  3. Too much stress can be detrimental.
Ask yourself…
  • Have I noticed a significant change in the life of my teenager?
  • How can I help teens better cope with stress?
  • How can I help them see stress as a positive?
Go ask a teen…
  • How much stress do you think you can handle? What are you going to choose to handle?
  • How could stress be seen as positive?
  • Do you have a plan for how to handle the stress in your life?
Resources:

In this episode, we mentioned the following resources:

About Us:

Ricky Lewis, Executive Director for Teen Life, draws on his experience working with teenagers combined with actively learning about effective coping skills for teenagers over the past 15 years. His experiences in youth ministry and with Teen Life have led to a unique perspective and approach to helping teens be equipped to handle difficulties in their life. Follow him on Twitter!

Chris Robey is the Program Director for Teen Life. Earlier in his career while working as a youth minister, Chris earned a Masters Degree in Family Life Education from Lubbock Christian University to better equip his work with teenagers and families. Chris’ career and educational opportunities have exposed him to teenagers from a variety of backgrounds. Follow him on Twitter!

Karlie Duke started working as Teen Life’s Communications Director after graduating from Abilene Christian University with a degree in Communications with a minor in Family Studies. Karlie has worked with teenagers for the past 5 years and is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram!

Have a question?
If you have a question about something you heard or just want to give us some feedback, please leave us a comment below.  We would love to hear from you!