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.
The Importance of Asking…Twice.

The Importance of Asking…Twice.

This post was written by one of our facilitators, Sarah Brooks. Sarah 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. Sarah currently facilitates a High School Support Group in Fort Worth ISD.

———

I had a mild panic attack the morning I was set to lead my first Teen Life group. When I started looking over lesson one, I was shocked by how personal the discussion questions were. There was no building rapport, no easing in to sensitive topics with these people. No – right out of the gate, they expect me to walk into a group of teenagers I’ve never seen before, teenagers who are presumably hurting and/or experiencing significant life crisis, and ask questions like,

“On a scale from 1-10, how do you feel about yourself?”

and

“How much do you feel others care about you?”

For real??

I’m a wealthy suburban housewife facilitating a group in one of the lowest performing, lowest income high schools in our area. I knew these teens would be skeptical of me before I even said a word, but after reading lesson one I was afraid they’d actually be mad at such a blatant invasion of privacy.

None of it made sense….except that it worked. All the questions. None unanswered.

How? How is that possible?

I think the answer is in something I heard from a different group of teenagers a few weeks ago.

———

During a small group discussion at a church student conference last month, a group of high schoolers and I were talking about the topic of friendship. What it looks like, the difference between online connection and in-person community, etc.

I asked them what traits they looked for in a friend.

“Authenticity.” one said. “No judgment.” said another.

Then one girl said, “I want a friend who will ask me how I’m doing….twice. Once for the fake answer, then again for the real answer. I want a friend who will wait and press for the real answer.”

(*pause to slow clap for that answer*)

I knew exactlywhat she was talking about, because over the past several months I’ve been conducting a social experiment I find hysterical that my husband is ever-so-slightly embarrassed by.

It goes like this: we’re eating a restaurant and the waiter comes up and asks one of a few standard questions, either “How are you tonight?” or “How was your food?”

Something along those lines.

My husband answers “Great!” at the same time I answer a loud “MEHHHH” with a noncommittal shrug. Sometimes if I’m feeling extra obnoxious, I say, “Not great!”

I’ve done this countless times in countless restaurants with countless waitstaff and not a single personhas a) heard me or b) asked a follow up question.

Nobody hears me because nobody is actually listening.

I mean, it’s dinner at a restaurant. Who cares, right? I don’t need to be best friends with Olive Garden James.

But I’m beginning to realize we do this a lot in regular life, too.

We ask all the right questions – because we’re interested and polite, of course – but we don’t actually listen for the answers.

How many times have you had an entire conversation with someone in which you didn’t hear a word they said?

You say, “Hey! How are you?” and as soon as the person starts answering your mind bounces to your work inbox and how you need to pick up the dry cleaning before they close and how your kid has that weird science project with the apples and – oh! he’s finished talking I should ask another question…

We live in a culture with really long to do lists and really cheap communication. We get so busy we forget to actually stop and listen.

———

And this exactly why my Teen Life groups work. This is why those first students didn’t storm out on day one.

The curriculum we use provides practical, helpful tools for teenagers about how to live life better. It’s incredible.

But more than that, these students know that in a world stuffed so full of “connections” we’ve somehow disconnected ourselves from real conversation, they have a place once a week where they can come and be heard.

Even better, they’re heard by an adult who isn’t paid to talk to them, who didn’t give birth to them, and who apparently has no better hobby than to drive across town every Thursday to listen to what they have to say, simply because she – and the rest of the Teen Life team – believes in them.

We stop and we listen. (Curiously. We listen curiously.)

In today’s society, with today’s teens, that can make all the difference in the world.

Support Group Update 2018

Support Group Update 2018

Summer is officially here, and I did not want to miss the opportunity to share the ways your support, donations, and encouragement have impacted the 1,204 students who participated in Teen Life Support Groups this school year. Each week, I get to see the impact these groups make. These teenagers are more than numbers, campuses and school districts to me. I get to sit in their circles, hear their stories, and talk about their futures. I get this perspective most weeks of the school year, but I know that most of you are not Teen Life Facilitators.

You are in your own trenches – in your homes, classrooms, and churches. You are doing hard work, but you don’t always get to participate in the intentional conversations that a Teen Life Support Group can encourage. Each week, Teen Life Facilitators encourage the group to share their thoughts, experiences, and hopes. We talk about stress, relationships, internal resources, school, the ups and downs of life and more. In a 45 minute group, I can witness a bond and trust between 10 strangers that many people would have to work weeks or months to develop.

How is this possible?

Teenagers crave a safe place to talk and share. And Teen Life is able to step in this gap with the help of our volunteer facilitators and school staff.

Still a little skeptical? Here are some of the things that we heard from our facilitators this school year:

Last week, we challenged the students to work on building relationships with people they would like to be closer to. One of the students was set on picking someone else other than his biological father. He mentioned that the relationship is over and beyond healing. He seemed to have hard feelings regarding his father, but really liked his mom’s boyfriend. This week, he told me that, even though he said he did not want to pursue a relationship with his father, he decided to write a letter to him saying he wanted to build their father-son relationship. His father answered back with the same desire. It looks like the healing process has begun in this young man’s life.

Lots of great sharing from the girls. This was the week I started to really love leading this group. I feel like It’s a highlight of my week and one of the most important places I’m able to serve right now.

As always, you think your efforts are going by the wayside and then the girls open up about how much they feel they have learned and grown. One girl, who shared on paper that there hasn’t been any growth, then shares that it really helps to laugh with the other girls in the group because this makes life not seem so hard.

Though it isn’t fun when the group comes to a close, there is no doubt that [the last lesson] is my favorite. Today, I can’t tell you how many times I heard the phrase, “None of my peers have ever complimented me like that before.” The students were very moved by all that the other group members had to say about them. We concluded the group by reminding them that you cannot control your circumstances, but you can only control yourself. We also encouraged them to use what they learned to possibly help someone else in the future.

These stories are what make the numbers really mean something. Like I said above, the teenagers in our groups aren’t just numbers to me, our staff, or our facilitators. However, this year, we had our biggest year yet! I am so thankful to be a part of an organization that not only seeks to help as many teenagers and families as possible, but that takes the time to hear and invest in the individual stories.

Now that you’ve heard a few stories, here are some of the numbers from the 2017-2018 School Year:

Number of States

Number of School Districts

Number of School Campuses

Number of Students in Support Groups

Number of Facilitators Who Led a Group

This group update is so exciting for me to write! It shows that not only are we able to reach more teenagers each year because of our supporters and volunteers, but schools see value in equipping students outside of the classroom. The school counselors, teachers, and administrators that we work with want to give their students every opportunity to succeed and get the resources they need.

So I want to say thank you for another great school year. Thank you for supporting, encouraging, and giving to us. Thank you for trusting us with your teenagers. Thank you for inviting us on your school campuses and giving us a space to empower teens. Thank you for being a part of our groups – for sharing and being vulnerable. We could not do it without you!

 

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 Mess of Loving Teenagers

The Mess of Loving Teenagers

Loving teenagers isn’t always easy. Some days it is actually really difficult.

I had a tough Support Group this week. I did not walk away with a great feeling of accomplishment or even much hope. The conversations seemed to revolve around gangs, drugs, and baby mamas (yes, multiple). The students were distracted, disengaged, and at times disrespectful.

In situations like this, it would be so easy to walk away and not come back. I am not forced to like these teens. I am under no obligation to see them again.

But we don’t always have the choice to walk away. Many of us have teenagers in our lives that we have to spend time with. They live in our homes, go to our schools, are involved in our youth groups, and play on our sport teams.

 

I don’t have an answer that will make teen relationships easy or simple. (If you know of a trick, please share it!) But I do know a couple of things…

You are the right person.If you are already in the life of a teenager, there is no one more qualified to walk with them.  Teenagers don’t always need new people to come and change their lives. They need the people who are already in their lives to notice them, invest in them, and encourage them. Maybe that means helping them find other resources, but we have to tap into the community that is already surrounding our students. It is a hard job, but it is your job!

The right thing can be messy. If you are looking for the easy, clean thing, you might be looking for the wrong solution! It is right to stick it out in a Support Group that seems to be going wrong. Right is finding glimmers of hope like a girl talking about an attitude change that made her week better. That is small, and it didn’t get her out of trouble, but it is setting her on the right path. We don’t need to fear getting a little messy. I don’t know about you, but my life can be sticky, too. When we are dealing with other people (especially adolescents), it is always going to be messy, but it can also be right and good.

It is the right thing to stay. What difference would we see in teen culture if the people in their lives chose to stay? If that dad didn’t walk out? Or that teacher didn’t give up? Or that friend didn’t kill herself? By this point, I think we can all agree that staying is hard. But the simple the act of staying probably makes the biggest difference. I could completely stop my group after a hard week, but it is so much more powerful when I choose to come back. I might not agree with their choices, I might not like the words they use or the topics they discuss, but I will continue to come back week after week. Every time you stay, come back, and reengage, you are sending the message that you care and that they matter.

 

Teenagers need you. They need a community who will call them to a higher standard but stick around when they fall a little short. You are probably already doing this in your own context, but this is where Teen Life Support Groups can step onto a school campus and make a difference for a group of teens. For 8 weeks, we climb into the mess and keep coming back. Our volunteers ask the hard questions and encourage the small changes that make a big difference. We would love for you to step into the mess with us.

We are wrapping up our Spring Fundraiser this week, but you can still give to help us provide groups to students who need support, consistency and a little extra encouragement. You can give here. Help us equip students and let us empower you to stay in the hard times!

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.