5 Ways to Connect with a Teen

5 Ways to Connect with a Teen

In my Teen Life Support Group last semester, I had a student who seemingly did not want to be there. She refused to talk. She crossed her arms. She kept her head down. After the first week, we talked to her and said that she didn’t have to talk but needed to participate as a member of the group. She reluctantly did the activities, but still never spoke a word.

A few weeks later, another student asked about my family. I explained that my parents live in Alabama, and I don’t see them very often because of the distance. Immediately, my standoffish student spoke. “Wait, you’re from Alabama? Me too.” In that moment, we had created a connection.

Connection. It sounds so easy, right? But how often do we strive to achieve it and come up short? Sometimes, finding a commonality is like finding a needle in a haystack. Some days I wonder if I have anything at all in common with the teens I’m with. Some days I wonder if they even want to connect with me at all.

In their book, The Connected Child, Dr. Karyn Purvis, Dr. David Cross, and Wendy Sunshine walk through a series of connecting principals to help us as parents, teachers, youth ministers, or friends of young people who are struggling and yet seem to reject our help. In order to connect, we have to engage with students. Here are five of their strategies:

 

  1. Behavioral Matching: Reflect your student’s behavior or physical position. This increases their ability to feel safe. It’s less complicated than it seems. When my daughter wants to talk at night, I lay down next her instead of standing over her.  If my smaller child wants to play with cars on the floor, I sit on the floor as well. Find the natural comfort behavior for your teen and match it without even mentioning it.

 

  1. Playful Engagement: Be playful in your conversations. We adults often want to get to the point, address the problem, and fix it. But they often need us to break the ice. We do that by showing that we can have fun. When my teen doesn’t want to do something they deem embarrassing, I do it first. If they are frustrated, say “Whoa? I didn’t know you were the boss!” Let them know they are safe even in disagreements. You can have a deeper conversation once there is more connection.

 

  1. Create Eye ContactWe live in a world where students don’t look at each other. They look at screens. But the eyes are powerful.  Look your students in the eyes and they will know they are cared for. As parents, how often do we yell down the hall or up the stairs. How would things change if we spent more time looking in our teenagers’ eyes?

 

  1. Share Healthy Touch: Give a hug. Pat them on the back. Hold their hand. Play with their hair. If you aren’t sure if it’s ok, ask permission. Students often want to know you care, and you don’t have to use words to show up.

 

  1. Be aware of your tone of voiceAre you loud? Are you frustrated? Are you talking quickly or slowly? Do you even know? You can start and end a conversation just by using your tone. You also can be authoritative without being demeaning or unkind.

 

Connecting through engagement is hard, but as Dr. Karyn Purvis says, “When you connect to the heart of a child, everything is possible.”

My student from Alabama? After she learned we were from the same place, everything shifted. That tiny connection was all it took to help make our group safe for her. She was able to talk through some significant things happening at her home all because of connection.  

A week after group ended, the interventionist stopped me in the hall.  She raved about how this girl was totally different than she was 8 weeks before. What a powerful lesson about the potential power that can be unleashed with just a little connection!

 

Beth Nichols

Beth Nichols

Program Director

With her background in social work and experience as a mom of 4, Beth’s perspective is invaluable. She has had the opportunity in both her personal and professional life to encounter youth from a variety of situations. 

4 Ways to Finish with Success

4 Ways to Finish with Success

At the end of 2018, our team decided to focus on finishing well by reading Jon Acuff‘s book, Finish. It was a great book to end the year with, but as I was reading, I couldn’t help but wish I had these tools at the beginning of 2018. My goals were already set, completed, or abandoned by that point. But the great thing about goals is that you don’t need a new year to start (even though it is pretty handy that 2019 just started).

I’ll be honest – I rarely finish books like this. But with a title like Finish, I knew this was one that would bother me if it stayed on my bedside table without getting read. Thanks to Jon’s ideas, I was able to read some parts and audiobook other parts without feeling like I was cheating – I simply finished and that felt great!

As Teen Life looks forward to 2019, we will be using many of the tips, tidbits, and tools from Jon’s book. While I will recommend that you pick up your own copy, here are 4 things that can help you get started as you set your own goals this year.

 

Take the Pressure Off

One of the first chapters in Finish is called “The Day After Perfect.” Man, this one hit me hard. It is easy to set a goal and excel at it for a few days, weeks, or maybe even months. But what happens when you mess up your perfect streak? How do you recover when you eat a pizza buffet instead of grilled chicken and spinach? How do you show your face at the gym again when its been a few weeks and you’ve lost your progress? It is so easy to slip into bad habits of staying up late, letting our houses get too messy, relying on our phone when we get bored, or focusing on the easy things at work instead of the important things.

Once we have a bad day, our goal is easy to abandon. Forget the new shoes you bought, the fancy planner, or that expensive gym membership – one mistake can derail progress, and that is wrong!

So instead, take the pressure off. Give up the idea that you are going to be perfect this year. Expect the imperfections instead of quitting when you meet them. In this chapter, Jon Acuff writes, “You will not be perfect, but do you know what’s even more important than perfection? … Moving forward imperfectly. Reject the idea that the day after perfect means you’ve failed. That’s just not true. You get to try again. Today, tomorrow, next week.”

 

Set Achievable Goals

Along with this idea of perfectionism comes the idea that a goal isn’t worth having if it isn’t the biggest and best. Who wants to lose 5 pounds when you could drop 30? It sounds so much better to say you are training for a marathon instead of a 5K. No one wants to set foundational goals for business when doubling income or growing to a new state is more exciting. But it is incredibly defeating when you set a goal that is out of reach, so Acuff suggests that you “cut your goal in half”.

Just like we talked about before, if you set a goal that is too big, the perfectionist in you is going to quit. Often, we would rather quit than fail. It makes us feel better to say we gave that goal up before we had a chance to fall short. Jon suggests that we stack the odds by making our goals more attainable. He doesn’t say that we should do less work, only that we should set goals that are within reach so that we will be motivated to do more and actually finish. When you reach that attainable goal, you are more likely to keep going day after day, month after month. You will do more with smaller goals than a big goal that you gave up on!

So cut your goal in half or give yourself more time! Try to lose 5 pounds this month instead of 10 (that way if you lose 8, you’ll have exceeded your goal instead of failing). Give yourself a week to reorganize your entire house instead of only taking a weekend. Grow your current business before choosing to add a completely new product. By setting realistic goals, you will do more and finish!

 

Make it Fun

In his book, Acuff says, “Perfectionism believes that the harder something is, the more miserable something is, the better it is. The lie it tells you is: Fun doesn’t count.” Does anyone else identify with this lie? I hate to run. I don’t really care if it will help me get in shape, lose weight, or be healthier. It’s the worst, so I don’t do it. Maybe signing up for a marathon shouldn’t be my goal anytime soon…Instead, I need to set a goal that is fun for me – like signing up for a cycling class or meeting friends to walk (and talk) outside. Your goal does not have to make you miserable, and if it is something that you hate, you probably won’t push through the hard days and imperfections to finish.

We need to find new and inventive ways to make goals fun again! Maybe that means doing research for work in the form of an interesting podcast or audiobook while you are driving. Or maybe you find ways to reward progress for a goal that is inherently “not fun”. Plan a beach trip after you drop the weight or get on Facebook for 5 minutes after you’ve worked hard at your goal for an hour straight. It is not cheating to enjoy your goals – you just have to get a little creative!

 

Eliminate Distractions

Now that we have tackled some of the lies of perfectionism, we have to protect ourselves from the destruction of distraction. Sometimes these distractions are intentional, sometimes they seem important and validated, often they could wait until after you completed your goal. Honestly, I am not good at staying away from distractions. It is something I still struggle with, but now that I am aware of what I am doing, these distractions are easier to overcome.

Do you ever say, “Let me check my phone really quick…”, and then look up an hour later find yourself deep in the depths of “Best Dressed” pictures from the latest awards show? Or did you glance at Facebook only to stumble across pictures of that high school friend who you haven’t seen in years. Your phone (with its social media apps and addicting games) can be a slippery slope. Or do you ever start you work day with a big goal only to spend the first couple of hours cleaning out your email and unsubscribing from every spam newsletter? That is a distraction.

Many times I will reach for the easy thing over the important thing. Not that the easy task shouldn’t get done at some point, but often I use it as a distraction to keep myself busy so I don’t feel bad about not getting to the difficult, time-consuming task that has to come next. I love Jon Acuff’s suggestion that you should ask your spouse or a close friend what your distractions or “hiding places” are. Chances are, they know them even if you don’t realize they are there. Let’s make an effort to set aside distractions (even noble ones) to get our goals finished!

 

We talk about goals often in our Teen Life Support Groups. We encourage teenagers to set small goals that they can accomplish that week and then we continue to build on them week after week. We ask them what worked and what was hard. We give new ideas for how to tweak goals moving forward to have the most success. Why does this make sense for teenagers and not for us? Why can I give better advice to others and then struggle with my own goals on a weekly basis?

In 2019, I hope you will join me in finishing. I hope you will change your expectations, set small, fun goals that you can build on, and minimize distraction for success. We can do this. We can finish!

 

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.
All I Want For Christmas Is…Groups!

All I Want For Christmas Is…Groups!

One of my favorite parts of my job is getting to lead a Support Group each week. This year, I spent my Wednesday mornings with 6 high school students who laughed, questioned, shared, and began to trust each other by the end of our time together.

It was awesome.

But the best part came during our last meeting when the students had a chance to share encouragement with each other through symbols. Each group member passed their sheets around and added symbols to describe each person. Some of these symbols included things like: strong, easy to talk to, brave, calm, keep a secret, safe with, smart, and spend the day with. It was so encouraging to get your own sheet back and see what the group thought of you.

While I had fun looking at my own sheet, I loved hearing what symbols excited my teen friends. One boy was so excited because several people said they would like to “spend the day with” him. To give some context to this teenage boy, he consistently kept the group on our toes. He was routinely 10 minutes late to group, told the most outrageous stories, and always managed to sprinkle several curse words over the time we spent together.

Overall, he was a mess. But on this day, with these symbols, he was floored.

He smiled a huge smile and declared that he didn’t want group to end so we could continue hanging out each week.

As a group leader, this was a huge win! I was able to watch a student who had little confidence but always turned group into a joke come alive. After hearing what the other groups members had to say were our strengths, we then talked about our own inner strengths and how we can use them to help others. This same boy who rarely had a serious moment shared that he felt his strength was “persistence.” He talked about the ways he had overcome hard times but was still here and moving forward.

That is what we want to help all teenagers see as they go through Teen Life Support Groups. They have strengths. They have the ability to move forward, even when life is hard and unfair. They have people who are in their corner – peers and adults who are cheering them on.

Can you imagine going through High School with little confidence, support, or hope? How hard are those teenage years even in the best circumstances?

But we can help. We can give support, encouragement, hope, and a place to be safe and heard. We can give teenagers the gift of Support Groups! I am passionate about groups because I see the impact they have each week. And there is still time for you to join Teen Life and equip teenagers this holiday season!

You can equip, encourage, and empower students by giving to Teen Life!

May more students receive hope and support in 2019. May every school who needs Support Groups have access in the near future. May we all look for ways to help schools and students this season and the coming year!

If you want to be a part of a student’s story, you can give and sponsor a Support Group or teenager here.

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.
Repost: Helping Students Find Hope in Hopelessness

Repost: Helping Students Find Hope in Hopelessness

A few weeks back, I was sitting with some students from a really tough part of our city and working through some of their resources. Part of our groups involve identifying and building up the student’s sense of courage, connectedness, self worth, and capability. What we noticed with this group is a general lack of self-reported capability. This seemed to be the trend throughout the group of young men.

This was a strange happening in my experience. Generally, a group of young men will tend to overstate their courage and capability from a place of machismo or even lack of self-esteem. It’s a coping mechanism everyone uses from time to time to protect us from being real with each other.

Yet for some reason, these young men decided to stop with the charade. Several of these young men were facing criminal charges as adolescents and were in a general “holding pattern” as they awaited what their PO (parole officer) or presiding judge had to say about their case. They felt like they had no real recourse and that the mistakes they made would follow them for the rest of their lives.

These young men were between the ages of 15 and 17, and at this early age, they were experiencing something reserved for people typically much older – hopelessness.

This hopelessness echoes from their upbringing, family structure, and their neighborhood. It’s a general sense that no matter what happens, they are doomed to the same cycle they have seen over and over again. My guess is this hopelessness has been ingrained earlier than my arrival into their lives.

So today, I am wondering as a “helper” of students, what can I do to bring hope to those whose hope has escaped at an age where hope should abound? I have a few things I have been thinking through along these lines, but I’d like to hear more feedback from you!

  1. Help students see their “preferred future” – This is technique based in solution focused therapy, but it is a really great tool to help the hopeless imagine what their life would be like if things were different. I typically ask students the simple question, “What do you want?” I usually don’t have to be a lot more specific than that. And with that question comes glimmers of hope. You see, even in the darkest night of the soul, the soul still knows what it wants.
  2. Help them work backwards from their “preferred future” – When they establish the goal, help them identify simple, realistic, and controllable steps to start walking in that direction. I wouldn’t even focus on what it would take to accomplish the desire. Really, this is likely too much to handle in the moment. Instead, what would it take to at least turn in the right direction and even take a small step? Maybe it is simply getting more sleep, finding a new job, or asking for help. Try to stay with the small and manageable tasks.
  3. Help them to think about how things will be different when they get to their “preferred future” – In other words, will this make much of a difference? Often the solutions we want won’t really fix anything, but sometimes they do. Helping students think about what things need to be different for their futures to look more positive are very simple. Sometimes life isn’t as horrible as we think it is in our worst moments.

One of the most unacceptable circumstances for me to witness is a hopeless student. I’m not okay with it. None of us should be.

So with the three simple ideas I posed here, what would you add to help students find hope in hopeless situations? We would love to hear back from you!

 

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s CEO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
Can I Say That Here?

Can I Say That Here?

I was recently leading a support group with 7th grade students. During one of our introduction activities, a girl started to share — and then paused.  She thought for a moment, and then said, “My answer is from The Bible.  Can I talk about that here?”

This is the constant question of students around us – students who live in an unsafe world – Is it okay to say what I feel here? Or the deeper version – Is this a safe place?

I opened it up to the group, and the consensus from the seven other students in the room was that she could share and not be picked on or made fun of in our circle, despite many of the others in the room having vastly different beliefs.

Seventh graders don’t typically ask if a group is safe unless they have spent time in spaces that aren’t.

Whether its mean girls, cyberbullying, or slut shaming; whether in families, in homes, or in social media fights about politics – our students are all too exposed.  They need safe spaces.

A safe space, by definition, is a place intended to be free of bias, conflict, criticism, or potentially threatening actions, ideas, or conversations.

We can help create legitimately safe spaces with our students by implementing a few simple ideas:

  1. Set Norms. In all of our groups, our students walk through a process to set norms, or behavioral expectations, before ever being asked to open up and share. Norms provide member led guidelines for what behavior and attitudes are appropriate for the space. It’s the same at home – one of our norms is “you can say whatever you want as long as you say it with respect.”
  2. Don’t Assume. It’s easy to group people together, or to make assumptions about how someone is feeling. It’s much harder to ask clarifying questions such as, “Can you tell me more about that?” or “I heard you saying _____. Is that correct?”
  3. Listen more than you talk. Students (and adults) do not want to share when no one is listening or when they feel like they are competing with someone or something else.
  4. Be shock proof. In order for a space to be safe, students need to be able to share the good, the bad, and the ugly. If they think you can’t handle it, they won’t share.

 

In a world of constant exposure to the threat of “fails” going viral or intimate details being shared publicly, our kids need safe spaces.   More than ever, they need a place away from the videos, the snaps, and the cloud-connected threats of exposure.

They desperately need safe places. You can create those. And you can make the difference. Help make that space for others.

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.
10 Years of Thankfulness

10 Years of Thankfulness

Hopefully you aren’t tired of celebrating 10 years of Teen Life, because we would not be celebrating if it wasn’t for YOU.

This year, we are thankful for many things, but as we reflect on Thanksgiving Day, we can’t help but show our appreciation to those who have been part of Teen Life for the last 10 years, and especially to those who have impacted the life of a teenager.

So here we go.

Thank you to our staff and board who have poured time, dreams, and vision into Teen Life. Thank you for having a passion and love for teenagers – life lived better started with you. Each idea and encouragement has had a direct impact on the lives of teenagers!

Thank you to our incredible volunteers. You are the ones who make our Support Groups come to life each and every week. You take time out of your busy day to play with play doh, color with crayons, and talk about meaningful topics like relationships, stress, and courage. You are empowering teens, whether you ever get thanked by the students themselves or not.

Thank you to the donors and supporters of Teen Life. Your belief in Teen Life and the future of teenagers cannot be overlooked! You have donated money, resources, expertise, food, baby items, time and so much more. You may not always get to see the faces of the teenagers who are part of Teen Life Support Groups, but you are the reason schools can have free groups on their campus.

Thank you to the counselors and school staff who advocate for students each week. We are honored that we get to partner with you to provide resources to teenagers. You are the voices they trust and the people they look to long after the Teen Life groups end. Thank you for opening your campus and trusting us with your students. Your role and commitment to teens in invaluable!

Thank you to all of the students who choose to be a part of Teen Life Support Groups. You challenge us, make us laugh, make us think, and always keep us on our toes. Thank you for your honesty, candidness, and trust. You are the reason we do this – the reason we recruit, volunteer, create curriculum, and show up every week.

I could go on and on – but I am sure it would turn into one of those Oscar speeches that is way too long and still forgets someone important! We could never express our thankfulness for the last 10 years adequately, but Teen Life’s mission, vision, and growth is because of you.

You are our reason for the season. So humbly, we thank you.

We also encourage you to reach out to who you are thankful for today! Maybe it is a teen in your life or a family member. Maybe you want to reach out to a teacher, youth minister, counselor, or adult who was instrumental in your teen years. Thank those you love, those you just met, or the person who encourages you to keep going. Let’s not let this holiday or season pass without thanking those around us.

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.