Searching for Strengths and Solutions

Searching for Strengths and Solutions

 

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Join Chris and Karlie as they talk about Teen Life’s philosophy for working with teenagers! With a quick intro to Solution-Focused Therapy, Chris and Karlie discuss the importance of helping teenagers find practical solutions while also pointing out the strengths and resources they already possess.

In this episode, Chris and Karlie will give some practical tips for how you can use solution-focused tools and questions to interact with the teens in your life. By using scaling, fist-to-five, and good questions, you can help teenagers focus on how they can make a positive change in the future. This discussion is full of practical tips that can help you empower teenagers this week. Join the conversation and let’s start assuming the best about teenagers!

 

Resources:

In this interview, we mentioned the following resources:

About Us:
Chris Robey is the CEO of 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 is Teen Life’s Marketing & Development Director, joining Teen Life after graduating from Abilene Christian University with a degree in Communications and a minor in Family Studies. Karlie has worked with teenagers for the past 8 years and is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram!
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5 Assumptions About Teenagers

5 Assumptions About Teenagers

Teenagers are easy targets to complain about…they cost a lot of money, eat way too much food, do weird and sometimes awkward things, spend a ton of time on their phones or gaming systems, and often cause drama with the whole going-through-puberty thing.

Anytime I tell someone that I work with teenagers, I often hear statements like, “Bless your heart.” Or, “I could NEVER do that, good for you!” Sometimes I get questions like, “Don’t teenagers drive you crazy?” “How can you handle working with middle schoolers all the time??”

But here is my secret…I often make assumptions when it comes to teenagers.

We all make assumptions. However, these are not the assumptions that the well-meaning people made above. It is probably not even the assumptions you would expect. In order to work with teenagers (and genuinely enjoy it), I encourage you to make some of these assumptions as well…

Assume teenagers are trying their best. Put yourself back in middle school or high school. Do you remember that feeling? Adolescence is HARD. You could not pay me to do it again…so I always assume that teenagers are doing the best they can in a very difficult situation. It would be really easy to assume that annoying or difficult teens are acting that way on purpose. But when we label students negatively, that is all we will see, and it is how they will continue to act. When you treat students like they are good kids coming from hard places, it can change everything for you and them. Let’s give some grace and some help when they need it.

Assume teenagers are searching for hope. Even the most troubled teenagers I know want their future to look better. They have dreams and goals. They want to graduate and go to college or get well-paying jobs. They want to start families and have a happy life. I have yet to talk to a student who wants their future to be worse than their present situation. Hope is a powerful motivator! Unfortunately, teenagers often don’t know where to start to reach their goals. Which is why we have to assume the next point…

Assume teenagers have the skills they need. When we talk to students in our Support Groups, we often talk about the resources, skills, and strengths that they already possess. We don’t always give them new skills; instead, we point out the people in their life who can help. We have them think through the strengths that they can grow and improve. We ask them to think differently about themselves while giving encouragement and hope. Teenagers are not dumb. They are not helpless children. It makes a big difference if we assume that they are capable. Will you be an adult who can help them realize their potential instead of telling them how they have messed up? Will you encourage, equip, and empower teenagers to face life’s challenges?

Assume teenagers are fun to be around. Teens are hilarious. They are fascinating creatures to watch and observe. They are adorably awkward. They often say exactly what they are thinking. They goofy and spontaneous and full of life. Why does this annoy us? What if we assumed that they are fun? What if we looked forward to spending time with teenagers instead of dreading it? Maybe they don’t need to be less exhausting…maybe we need to be less old. We need to change our own perspective!

Assume teenagers want to talk. You might be shocked by what teenagers are willing to share with adults. Within a few minutes in a Support Group, I can know about a teenager’s family, interests and hobbies, how their day is going, and how connected they feel to others. They want to talk. They are looking for safe environments to share and be vulnerable. Are you asking the right questions? Are you positioning yourself to be a trustworthy adult? Take the time to connect with the teenagers in your life. Be prepared to listen…really listen, without judgement or interjections. Have patience and be willing to ask two or three times.

I love teenagers. They are bold and fun. I encourage you to trade your current assumptions for something more positive. Teenagers have enough to deal with – let’s take our perceptions off their plate and assume the best!

Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Marketing & Development Director

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. She has gained experience working with teenagers through work, volunteer, and personal opportunities.

13 Reasons Why: Making Noise or Making Change?

13 Reasons Why: Making Noise or Making Change?

Recently, season 3 of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why was released. Because of its implications on teenage culture, Teen Life has been following this show since the beginning, and last month, I finished the 3rd installment of this controversial series.

Let me start by saying that this show is not one I would recommend teenagers watch. I would not even recommend that adults watch it with its mature content and language. However, I know that teens continue to watch it, and so it begs the question: Is 13 Reasons Why helping or hurting teenagers?

In this third season, the Netflix show covered sex, drugs, abortion, prostitution, gun violence, bullying, sexual abuse, illegal immigration, steroid use, and sexual identity. These are issues and topics that today’s adolescents are wrestling with, but is this the format to discuss it? To quote one of the characters on the show, “But you’re not making change, you’re just making noise!”

Wow.

What a quote! And so applicable to almost anything in our culture, especially with this age of social media driven content.

So many people want their ideas, problems, concerns, and injustices heard. That is not a bad thing at all, but there is a difference between making change and just making noise! Here are a few ways that we can encourage teenagers (and ourselves) to make more than just noise.

Be willing to listen.
There is so much injustice going on right now in our country and world. It isn’t right and it shouldn’t be tolerated, but before you shout your thoughts, be willing to listen. Listen to those who have been hurt and marginalized. Listen to different opinions in a respectful way. Noise leaves little room for other voices, but change cannot happen with just one person, so listen to those around you!

Have a purpose.
If your goal is just to be angry, that is not the best way to motivate change. Have a purpose behind your words and actions. Pick a cause that you are passionate about and work to make our world better. We can’t all be champions for every issue – there isn’t enough time! But we can be allies and friends to those already doing good work. We can be encouragers. We can pick a few things to put our resources and energy behind!

Look to change yourself.
Change is difficult. Like 13 Reasons Why shows, a culture and attitude cannot change overnight. But you can start with yourself! Be honest and evaluate how you can change and grow. Do you have bias you need to face? Are you being inconsiderate to other points of views? Are you invalidating the feelings of others? This type of reflection is not easy and can even be painful at times. Be willing to ask hard questions and start conversations to grow.

Noise drowns out everything else where change is willing to listen. Noise stays the same while change has purpose. Noise is passive where change takes action. Noise can stay behind a computer device or screen while change starts a bigger conversation outside of social media.

In the midst of racial injustice, sexual abuse, school shootings, suicide and more, we need to be having conversations. While I might not agree with the method of 13 Reasons Why, I will encourage you to be brave enough to talk about difficult topics with teenagers. They know what is happening. They see more than we realize at school and in the lives of their friends. They listen, absorb, read, and investigate. Please don’t let them take on this task alone! Show them how we can start conversations to make change. Be more than noise this week!

Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Marketing & Development Director

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. She has gained experience working with teenagers through work, volunteer, and personal opportunities.

3 Ways to Help Prevent Suicide

3 Ways to Help Prevent Suicide

 useRecently, I learned of a death by suicide by a prominent pastor – on the eve of National Suicide Awareness Day of all days. It was especially tragic because he was quite vocal about the topic from his writings and the pulpit, even going so far as to establish a non-profit promoting mental health and suicide prevention. He struggled quite publicly with his own depression and mental health and tried to keep the topic front-and-center, especially on social media. 

Yet, he still died by suicide. 

This was a tough one as I have a lot of friends in the clergy and have some unique insight into the stressors they face daily. I can understand the pressures that might bring someone to contemplate such a horrible outcome. But the question is, how does someone who is so vocal to the point of founding a non-profit still succumb to suicide? Is it just inevitable? Is it even preventable? 

After tragedies like this one and so many other high-profile suicides the common refrain is to urge people to ask for help or call the national suicide prevention hotline. These are definitely worthy actions to encourage. Yet, my guess is those who died by suicide likely gave that same advice at some point. 

So, are we missing something here? 

First of all, like most tragedies, suicide is not 100% preventable. Despite our best efforts, those in extreme darkness will choose this outcome no matter the best intentions of those who love them. Yet as those who love students, it would be good for us to understand what might drive someone to take their life.

Numerous studies have shown the actual act of taking one’s life comes by impulse more than we think. Often times we perceive suicide as being planned out meticulously like in “13 Reason’s Why”. Yet as survivors of suicide are interviewed, almost half in some cases report the attempt coming after a crisis less than 24 hours before. In fact, 1 in 4 survivors reported their suicide attempt within 10 minutes of the impulse!

Often these suicide attempts are aided by substance use and deteriorating mental health as well. But the bottom line is this – even though some suicides are long planned out, many more are an act of impulse in the immediate aftermath of a personal crisis!

So, as we talk about suicide, we also need to talk honestly about what is going on with the victim and what we can do to help. We need to understand that suicide can be (but not always) prevented by actual intervention on behalf of the one doing the outcry. While we can encourage the potential victim of suicide to act (i.e. ask for help, call a hotline), there are some tangible things we can do as helpers to intervene. 

• If you suspect someone might be contemplating suicide – ASK THEM. You won’t be putting any ideas into their head that are not already there.
• Never let someone you suspect is suicidal to be alone. Keep doors open and conversations ongoing.
• Remove any means that could complete suicide. Remove any guns, ammo, pills, rope, sharp objects, or anything that the potential victim could  use to inflict self-harm.

Why?
Because 90% of suicide survivors do not make another attempt! When we as helpers take basic actions like being present, asking good questions, and recognizing the impulsivity of suicide, we can save lives! 

It is time we recognize our roles as helpers to those who are genuinely struggling to find their own voice. We have a role to play for our family and friends who have lost hope. To step into this role demands courage and action. 

I highly encourage you to follow some of the research at Means Matter – a study out of Harvard working through the question of impulsivity and the means of suicide. This work has been formative for me as a helper of students to understand more tangible ways to help those contemplating suicide.

Chris Robey

Chris Robey

CEO

Chris has worked with teens from a variety of backgrounds for over a decade. He has a desire to help teenagers make good choices while also giving their families tools to communicate more effectively as choices are made.

Good Enough

Good Enough

A few weeks ago, I got the email. It was from the state of Texas and it was notifying me that STAAR scores were available for 2 of my kiddos. I knew it would be coming because I had seen several social media posts of parents applauding their own children for how well they had done:

“Only missed 1 question!”
“Perfect Score!”
“Mastery Level Scores!”

However, statistically, those students were the exception, not the rule. No one was posting about their child who scored in the “Did Not Meet Grade Level” or “Approaching Grade Level” categories.

We live in a world that quantifies and ranks. Our students are no exception. They have GPAs, Class Rank, ACT/SAT scores, STAAR, band chairs, athletic depth charts, and more. Even my elementary aged kids can tell you their reading level or Lexile level. They can tell you how many students in their class did not pass STAAR last year. They announce a valedictorian at my daughter’s middle school at the end of 8th grade. The list goes on and on.

I was sitting in Karate with my youngest a few weeks ago. As he has moved up belt levels, it has become more challenging for him. He isn’t even in first grade yet, but here is yet another ranking system to compare everyone. He is frustrated and disheartened.

In the middle of the class a few weeks ago, his instructor stopped and had everyone sit down. He turned to the long string of parents watching along the walls and threw out this line:

“Better is always good enough.”

Again:

“Better is always good enough.”

Twice. Because maybe we didn’t hear him the first time.

Such poignant words I needed to hear. I am naturally bent toward perfectionism – just ask my husband. I push myself hard and want to be at the top if there is a ranking to be had. But for many, that ranking system only reinforces that they are not good enough. That they did not pass or make all A’s or make the first string. Students (and adults) feel they could never possibly achieve enough and at some point, they quit trying. In karate, it looks like a child earning a stripe for a skill they haven’t mastered yet but have worked really hard on for the past few weeks and are improving on.

Let’s take that to a different level – Many of the students we encounter everyday have faced very real struggles or trauma in life. There will probably never be a top rank in any traditional system for many of them. But what if we, as a group, shouted from the rooftops that better is always good enough. What if we adjusted our expectations to reflect that philosophy?

Today, she actually tried and did her best on the math test and brought home a 60 – but she actually tried. Better is always good enough.

Today, he apologized after disobeying everything you said. Better is always good enough.

Today, she yelled at another student, but she didn’t get into a physical altercation with them – better is always good enough.

Today, he asked for help instead of just quitting – better is always good enough.

Too often we want our children and the students we work with to be the best. To reach the stars. To be the top. But sometimes, in reaching for the stars, we miss the small victories. The victories we need to applaud in order to keep the students in our lives more motivated and trying. We need to acknowledge that what is a victory for one student would not even be on the radar for another student. That a victory might not be a win by everyone else’s standards.

But to be successful in helping our students, our children, our peers we need to have a moment for Better Is Always Good Enough.

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. 

Traveling New Roads Together

Traveling New Roads Together

Last month, I had the pleasure of training a group of college students preparing to be camp counselors. My main purpose in the training was to equip them to support kids from hard places. Many of the camps they would be doing would take them into areas of the city where behavioral issues and lack of family support would be likely prevalent.

During the Q&A session at the end, questions kept coming up about how they should handle discipline. One counselor asked, “Can we make the kids do pushups if they are misbehaving or late?”. This is a common form of discipline within sports or camps, and I have never liked it. Personally, I think it can be pretty degrading to a kid to give penance in the form of a pushup – but despite how much I despise the approach, I answered – “Yes.”

But I had a caveat.

“As long as you do the pushups with them.”

The group laughed, but the point was taken. When you make kids do pushups for misbehaving, is any connection made? Or are we further cementing our authority and power? However, when we do pushups with the kids, connection is created and there is some sense of shared responsibility.

Because if the kids are constantly misbehaving or late – does the fault completely lay on their shoulders? Or is it a power play for the adult to dish out the discipline without also taking some of the blame? 

As helpers of students, we often forget the power of vulnerability and connection when it comes to how we correct. It is much easier to point out the mistakes with our kids. It’s much harder to admit our culpability.

This concept rang true to me as I read through a recent study on teenagers and cell phone use commissioned by Common Sense Media. The main takeaway of the study showed that 1 in 3 teenagers take their cell phones to bed and report checking their phones multiple times overnight.

Simply put, this is a horrifying trend. Numerous studies have confirmed the “blue light” emitted by screens should be eliminated at least 30 minutes before bed, and cell phone be removed from the bedroom for any chance of quality sleep. Why on earth would teenagers do this to themselves?

Well, because we do. The same study reports 61% of adults check their phone within 30 minutes of going to bed. Simply put – we adults have developed some nasty habits with our devices and our kids are watching.

An interesting thought that came out of the same study showed the number of teenagers who think their parents are spending way too much time on the phone went up by 11%. But teenagers own assessment of how much time they spent on devices was more muted. While they thought their parents spend way too much time on the phone, they felt like their time was just about right.

This study highlighted how teenagers can develop really unhealthy habits and suffer loss of sleep and health as a result. As an adult it would be easy to just tell a student to not take their phone to bed. If so, prepare for a fight.

It’s like this in so many aspects of our parenting and mentoring of students. We are quick to point out their issues and tell them where they should change, but even with the lightest of scrutiny, we as adults aren’t doing much better. 

This isn’t just about cell phones and sleep. It’s how we deal with our stress. It’s how we self-medicate. It’s about our anger. It’s our discontent. Do we not realize our kids are watching us, even if they seem aloof?

This offers opportunity for connection. For example, if you know your teenager is taking their phone to bed, you likely are as well. Instead of laying down the law, why not share your own struggle and create a plan to deal with it together?

Or maybe you struggle with anger or outbursts. Maybe acknowledge that with your kid? Apologize? Even ask for help?

When we choose connection with our teenagers, we build relationship. It’s the harder road, but it is one that acknowledges our humanity as well as respects where our teenager is developmentally. 

We cannot ask our teenagers to travel roads we do not presently travel. By choosing vulnerability and connection, we choose to travel those roads together.

Chris Robey

Chris Robey

CEO

Chris has worked with teens from a variety of backgrounds for over a decade. He has a desire to help teenagers make good choices while also giving their families tools to communicate more effectively as choices are made.