Get on the Ground

Get on the Ground

I’ve never considered myself the “playful” type. It’s not that I’m particularly boring, but my “default” gear isn’t to step into a room wondering what kind of mischief I can stir up. I leave that to my wife.

For me, it is more of a mental shift I make – a decision that I’m not going to focus on getting things done, but just “play”. Sometimes this can be a hard shift because I feel like I am at my best when I am accomplishing things. Being task-oriented has helped me become more focused and productive, but sometimes it comes at a cost. My job has become more task oriented, and often that will follow me home.

So, when I walk in my home after a long work day my challenge is turning off my task list and re-orienting my priorities. You see, my kids don’t care about what I accomplished that day. All they want is to play. And I find the quickest way for me to switch from work to play mode is quite simple – lay down.

Oh, and I forgot the second part – prepare for the pain.

For a seven, four, and two year old there is nothing more thrilling than to see their daddy lay down on the ground for them to wrestle and jump on. Seriously – I compare the looks I see on their faces to Christmas morning sometimes. Maybe it is because I don’t do it enough – or maybe it’s because there is something else going on.

Adults fail to realize the simple idea of distance. Our world is “up here” and their’s is “down there”. They are always looking up to what we are doing. When we discipline or get upset at them, often it is from “up here”. Important conversations and decisions are made from “up there”. But, “down here” is where play, imagination, games, wrestling, and all the cool kid stuff happens.

The problem is – us adults spend way too much time “up there” and forget about “down here”. We get so consumed with adult things that we forget there is a whole other world just below our knees that looks nothing like ours. All we have to do to experience it is to lay down.

I have two big boys, and they like to hurt me when I’m down on the ground. I have a little girl who loves nothing more than to bounce on my back. It does hurt. But, for a brief moment I enter their world, and they get to share all of the cool things they are doing. They are in control. They call the shots. I don’t really have any authority on the ground.

This is “sacred space” that all adults who work with students should notice. It looks different the older people get – but that sacred space still exists. There is a world that teenagers live in where adults seldom venture. It’s a place where the shiny new tools of emotional development, society, culture, education, and the future collide. For those on the inside, it can be pretty overwhelming. If more adults would go into the world of a teenager with compassion and grace instead of advice and rules, we would know what it means to “get on the ground” with teenagers. They will open up. They will listen to you. They will trust you.

So, let’s change the way we approach teenagers. Instead of bringing adult thinking and culture to them, let’s leave all of that behind and “get on the ground” with them. It might hurt a little, but imagine what you will find……

How does this strike you? How do you “get on the ground” with the teenagers in your life? 

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s COO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
Great Holiday Expectations

Great Holiday Expectations

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – or at least it’s supposed to be. Trees are decorated, lights are strung, stockings are hung, lists are made, and parties are planned. Emotions can skyrocket to the highest highs and then crash all in one week.

Last year for Christmas, my 6-year old provided me her Christmas list. At the top was an iPhone. I initially just laughed it off, but as the season progressed, the iPhone quickly became the only thing on her list. So, about 2 ½ weeks before Christmas, I put on my Grinch face and told her that she wasn’t getting an iPhone for Christmas. She laughed and told me, “It’s okay.” I was shocked. She had been talking about it non-stop for weeks. Noticing my surprise, she added, “I asked Papa for an iPhone, and Papa always gets me what I ask for.”

Oh, expectations.

It’s a season full of expectations.

Expectations of ourselves. Expectations of others. Expectations in the form of gifts and Christmas lists. Expectations about family interactions. Expectations about memories to be made and thank-you’s to be given and received. Expectations about traditions.

Expectations can be overwhelming for children, youth, and adults alike during the Holidays. Often, they present themselves in the form of deregulated, unusual, or frustrating behaviors in our young people. Older children and youth often aren’t able to immediately convey how these expectations impact them, but if you take a step back then you can see.

You can see it in the teen who struggles with depression this time of year. Or the youth whose behavior spirals downward as they struggle to manage the anticipation of Christmas approaching. You see it in the young adult striving toward perfection this season in order to balance the pressures of extended family being around. Or in the child who struggles with the memories of happy Christmases with a person whose loss of relationship is still fresh. You can see it in the teen mom who is trying to balance her own wants with the desires of her child and for her child.

In addition to expectations we place on ourselves or have placed on us, there are all these other expectations around, often propelled through TV and social media. My holiday season doesn’t actually look like the commercials. Nor does it look like Instagram. There isn’t snow falling outside (thanks, Texas) as we all sit and laugh by the fireplace. There isn’t a long table filled with extended family members who are all using their manners and talking about non-controversial topics. There will be no new Lexus. My kids and their cousins aren’t wearing matching, Christmas coordinated outfits as they play kindly together with their new toys.

There’s an old proverb that says, “Expectations are just premeditated resentments.” At first, I wasn’t sure if I agreed. But the more I reflected on it, the more I realized how true it is, in normal everyday life, but especially during the holidays. Chasing expectations or trying to live up to others’ can be a holiday joy killer. For ourselves and for our families. For the students we work with. The gift might not be perfect. That family member might not come. There might be fighting when the willingness to play nice wears off. The money might not be enough, or the dread of impending debt can be crippling.

Flash back to the iPhone conversation. I quickly explained again to my daughter that I was not getting her a phone and neither was Papa. She was devastated. However, had the expectation of the phone continued to grow for 2 ½ more weeks, the devastation would have grown as well. With the expectations of an iPhone now put to rest, my daughter was able to enjoy the gifts she did receive without the disappointment on Christmas morning.

So, what can we do to help manage expectations this Christmas? Here are some simple questions for yourself and the youth you work with:

      1. For yourself: What expectations placed on you by others are weighing you down this year? Who do you need to let down gently? What personal expectations do you need to lower or adjust?
      2. For youth that might be struggling this holiday: What are their plans for the holidays? What are they anticipating about the holidays? What they are nervous about or dreading during Christmas?

Sometimes our youth seem hyper-expectant and overtly emotional, and other times they seem to blow off the holidays in apathy. My experience has been that all still feel the pressure of expectations. It has also been my experience that talking to them about their interpretation of expectations can be freeing for them and allows us to see what needs or struggles exist.

As you head into this season, start by checking your own expectations and then helping those around you understand their own expectations. You might just be surprised at how it changes Christmas.

 

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.
How to Create an Inviting Environment

How to Create an Inviting Environment

It’s Thanksgiving Day! Many of us are rejoicing, thankful for the break from school and work and excited for time with family. Some of us are exhausted from the travel it took to get where the family is gathering or are emotionally drained because the Holidays remind us of the loss of a loved one. Still others are dreading the time spent with extended family. The stress and tension of years of unresolved issues makes it so hard to endure the time together, anxiously waiting for the moment when we are back sleeping in our own beds.

If you can relate to that last one, this post is especially for you. If it is not you, hopefully it will help you process through how you are creating an environment that your kids long to be a part of.

Even though I am not to the point of having adult children yet, I can tell you this is something my wife and I are thinking about often. It is also something I can speak to from the experience of feeling welcome at my in-laws home while I don’t at my parents’ home.

The core conversation here is about what environment you are creating that is so inviting that your teenager doesn’t want to go somewhere else during the Holidays. Isn’t that what we want to create for our kids so they will love being around when they are adults?

This question came to mind the other day when I was being interviewed on a Dallas radio station and someone called in and asked what you can do when a teen chooses to rebel and gets pulled away by gangs or a negative community that we know will lead them to a place they do not want to go (such as drug users). What a tough question to address! But I believe there is an answer and it begins with us as the adults.

So here are some ideas on how you can create the most engaging, exciting and safe place for your kids to be.

 

  • Stop talking negatively about your family in front of your kids. For some of us this is hard. There is so much emotion attached to our parents or siblings that it is hard to filter, and it just comes out. Think about it this way. Since our kids are highly influenced by the behavior we model, are we teaching them to talk badly about us by doing that with other family members? I want to be very aware of the way I, instead, model respect for my family so they learn that, even when it is hard, it is still right to have respect and love for family. It’s exactly what I want them to do for me.

 

  • It’s not the tradition that matters, it’s the consistency at each gathering that makes it meaningful. My wife is amazing, and one reason is because she leads our family in writing down something we are thankful for each day during the month of November. But the key is the flexibility she allows to make it possible. Some years we have taken the time to create a whole tree with “thankful leaves” on it, and other years we simply write them in her journal (even though we sometimes have to catch up after 3 or 4 days of not writing them down). The best part is our kids now remind us when we didn’t write them down and even get excited that November is coming so we will get to write our “thankfuls” down every day.

 

  • Try not to make them do it. If you are forcing your kids participate, it may be the wrong activity for your family, or maybe they just need you to help them see why it is important. The important thing here is to remember it is a long-term effect you are wanting. So changing the activity to find the right one will be worth it once they are bought into it being a part of what it means to be in your family.

 

  • Remember, they will talk about it the way you do. If you complain that the years they were growing up were crazy and hard and no one liked being around each other, that is how they will remember it, too. If, instead, we strive to point out the good things we remember and what we learned from the hard times, those will be the memories that rise to the top for all of us. I am reading The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch Holocaust survivor. Re-reading her story reminds me of the horrific experiences she had to endure, and yet she was ultimately able to see the good that could come from it. In a similar way, we can teach our teenagers to do the same.

 

I hope this Thanksgiving you will look for the ways you can begin to create an environment in your family, at home and around special events that your kids don’t want to miss out on.

 

How have you seen this happen? What can you share with the rest of us about how to create these spaces? I look forward to hearing from you!

Ricky Lewis is our CEO and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
Curse of the Zombie Teenagers

Curse of the Zombie Teenagers

Sometimes as a new mom, I feel like I am experiencing a small part of adolescence all over again. Sleepless nights, learning new skills and little control over hormones are just a few things that remind me of those teenage years.

The most debilitating of these “symptoms”? Definitely the lack of sleep. I feel like I can barely function some days.

While facilitating a Support Group at a local Alternative High School this week, we talked about school and discussed how they felt about it. With only one exception, everyone in the group mentioned tiredness and how it affected their school performance. They were falling asleep at their desks, unable to focus on their work, and too tired to even come to school some days. They were walking Zombies!

However, when I asked how they could make school better, none of them talked about getting more or better sleep. Isn’t that interesting? Even though sleep is the one thing they need, they didn’t seem to see how missing out on sleep or going to bed late could negatively impact their whole day.

A few weeks ago my son, Sawyer, went through a sleep regression that had him waking up every 2-3 hours through the night. I had gotten used to waking up once a night but two or three? I was thrown for a loop!

That week and a half, I noticed several things. I was unfocused. I was grumpy. I was lazy. I was emotional. I found myself apologizing to my husband more than usual. Now I am not saying that during normal weeks I am never unfocused, grumpy, lazy or emotional (because I am), but I notice significant increases in these areas when I am tired.

If tiredness can have this affect on me, imagine the impact that the lack of sleep can have on teenagers! According to this WebMD article, there are several surprising effects that lack of sleep can cause:

It can cause accidents. Did you know that driving sleepy can cause similar reaction delays to driving drunk? When our students don’t get enough sleep, they could be a danger to others and themselves!

It can impair memory and learning. Not getting enough sleep can harm cognitive processes. This means that it affects alertness, focus, attention, and reasoning. When teenagers don’t get an adequate amount of sleep, they also won’t be able to remember what they experienced throughout the day, having a major affect on learning and retention.

It can lead to depression. Sleepiness can contribute to the symptoms of depression and anxiety. It can also create a vicious cycle – lack of sleep causes depression, and in return, depression can make it hard to fall asleep. Our teenagers do not need another thing that leads to depression and anxiety.

It can cause health problems. Sleep deprivation can cause many health issues from heart disease to obesity. It makes sense if you think about it. Our bodies need sleep to function and when you take that away, your body suffers and tries to make up for it in other ways.

It can impair judgement. When teens (or people in general) do not get enough sleep, they cannot accurately assess events or experiences which can lead to a lack of judgement. This can also apply to a lack of judgment about the affect of sleep-deprivation!

Teenagers are in one of the most important periods of growth. Their brain is developing, their body is growing, they are learning to interact socially. To do these things positively and set them up for success in the future, they need sleep. Plain and simple, this is one of the best things you can teach your teenager today.

They don’t have to be Zombies just because they are teenagers. They can be functioning, smart, witty and alert – if they get the sleep they need!

Let’s encourage teens to turn off the television or gaming system, put down the phones and go to bed at a decent hour. They may push back at the request, but they will be thankful when they are healthy, productive, happy, and making good decisions.

 

How have you seen the impact of lack of sleep? What things can we do to encourage teenagers to get more sleep? Share your ideas – we would love to hear them!

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.
Disconnected in an Overly Connected World

Disconnected in an Overly Connected World

The distractions in our lives are overwhelming. We are constantly attempting to keep up with the whole world and our own lives, which often leads to us feeling like failures. It is IMPOSSIBLE to stay connected IRL (in real life) when we are connected online 24/7. We have phones, tablets, computers, gaming systems, all loaded down with apps to keep us from having to interact with an actual person. The lack of connections we feel IRL often leads to feelings of depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
 

There are three major areas that have been connected to why people have become disconnected IRL:

  1. Social Media lies to us. Constantly. Friends post pictures of achievements. Photoshopped Instagrams make us feel ugly. Snapchats of being happy with a significant other can make us feel lonely. Picture perfect families and homes that are posted make us feel lesser than. Teens and adults alike fall into the trap of the lies that we all share online. Teens are constantly racing to stay popular online with the most likes, re-Tweets, shares, followers, and it is IMPOSSIBLE to keep up with the ever-changing status quo of the online world. Attempting to keep up with social media lies can make teens feel depressed or withdrawn from the people who support them.
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  3. Information overload. Having a constant stream of information easily accessed from literally the entire world is unhealthy and is often depressing. I personally have quit following news on my social media accounts because it would ruin my day constantly seeing the heart breaking stories of death, bombs, natural disasters, etc. Teens are not only dealing with their daily interactions, but the lies of social media, and the often negative news. Attempting to process information that is a) unnecessary to our everyday lives and b) may or may not be accurate information is overwhelming, which can lead to feelings of depression or anxiety. We all need to take a break from the negative overload of information forced fed to us on our social media accounts.
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  5. Followers Friends. Researchers have found that there is a negative emotional connection between how many online friends we have versus our real life happiness. What does that mean? It means that when a person becomes more obsessed with how many friends they have online, the less happy they are in real life, especially for teens and young adults. This complete obsession with social media followers leads to real life relationships being lost by the wayside because teens lose the ability to communicate in real life. Not being able to communicate about emotions without emojis is a serious issue that should be addressed and is why educating teens on communication is a core tenet of Teen Life.

 
I have found the best way to combat the depression, anxiety, and loneliness that comes from social media is to disconnect for at least one hour a day. This can be scary, especially for teens who are falling for the lies, being overloaded, and are concerned about followers. Disconnecting from all electronics and all social media for an hour a day can lead to us finding new ways of connecting in real life, recharging our brains to be better able of seeing through the lies, and can help improve our moods.

 

If you want to hear more about this subject, check out this eight minute video that truly highlights what is going on when we have an obsession with our social media.

Shelbie Fowler is currently an intern for Teen Life while completing her Master’s in Family Studies. She is passionate about being an advocate for family life education in order to grow families stronger.
The Right Conversation About Drugs

The Right Conversation About Drugs

This is Red Ribbon Week. All over the nation, students are hearing a message about not doing drugs. This is great news! They need to understand the problems with drugs and hear a message that doing drugs can be harmful, not only to yourself, but also to people you love.

 

That said, I often wonder if the message we are sending is the one teenagers need to hear. I had the privilege of attending a Red Ribbon Week breakfast this week. At that breakfast, students had been invited as leaders at their school to hear a message about why doing drugs is such a bad decision. I left feeling like the speaker really missed an opportunity.

 

Here’s why.

 

This particular speaker knows a lot about why drugs are a problem. He was a DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) officer and even ran an undercover business to trap and arrest drug dealers. So his story stock pile is far beyond anything I will ever have access to. On top of that, he used a compelling story from a family that has shared their experience publicly about their daughter who couldn’t overcome her drug addiction and died of a drug overdose. This story is a tough one to watch and unfortunately happens all too often in lots of communities around the world.

 

The problem I had with this speaker’s message was that it was definitely focused on the adults in the room. I even watched as a student laughed during his talk. Either they weren’t paying attention, or they thought the guy was terribly disconnected from his target audience. The room was mostly adults, but the attenddees that needed to hear his message and carry it back to their peers was the under 18 crowd in the room.

 

So where did he miss the mark? What could he have said differently, and what can we learn as adults trying to guide teenagers? I want to offer these suggestions for all of us not because I have it figured out, but because it is always good to keep reminding ourselves who we are dealing with and what we are trying to accomplish when working with teenagers.

 

First, recognize that the young people in the audience have probably heard several talks about not using drugs before. Because of this, it is important to put things in context for them. Explaining why they should care is much more important than sharing the latest data and stats. By sharing the information and then following it by explaining the reason it is important is because (for example), “That means 2 of your classmates will die of an opioid overdose this year.” This kind of context helps make the research and statics tangible so they will apply it to their life and share it with their peers.

 

Second, stop assuming teenagers understand what you mean by common terms. It’s much more effective to frame it for them. For example, this speaker used the term, “gateway drug”. This is an immediate turn-off for students. That term falls on deaf ears with any teenagers I talk to who are likely to use drugs. Why? Because it’s too easy for them to think, “Yeah, but not me.” So they ignore anything said after this comment. A simple rephrasing to, “I’m using gateway drug as a way to say it makes it easier and more likely for you to try other drugs. Not that it always leads to other drugs, but it lowers your inhibitions when it comes to resisting a friend’s offer for something harder.” Yes that’s what gateway drug means, but a teenager’s tendency is to push back against that term so you have to put it in context for them. The principle here being that you have to assume they will be defensive and explain why they should instead consider what you are talking about.

 

Third, give them a reason to pay attention. Let them know you understand they may not be tempted by drugs but that they know a friend who will be. Empower them to be the peer who knows what to do and how to step in. None of the students there left with an understanding of what to do if a friend is using drugs. They only hear, “Educate yourself and be a leader.” That can mean so many different things that they leave confused, not clear about what to do.

 

Finally, highlight the positive things that will be missed when drugs take over your life. The video was good, but it felt like an emotional tug on the heart strings that focused on all the negative effects this person’s drug use caused. These students need to hear things like, “You have a full life ahead.” “You have so much you can accomplish.” “You have a hope and future. Don’t lose it by smoking pot with your friends.”

 

Our family adopted three kids that should be living with their parents. Why? Because their grandfather thought smoking weed in high school was okay. The problem is that for him it led to Meth use and then to his daughter using Meth, and now three kids don’t get to live with either of their parents because of drugs. That kind of stuff should ignite anger in me, you, and the teens that hear it. It should inspire us to fight against the injustice that drugs cause.

It’s Red Ribbon Week. What way will you empower a teenager to stay off drugs and realize their ability to help a friend do the same this week?

Ricky Lewis is our CEO and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.