Choosing Kind

Choosing Kind

“When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.” – Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

Before the holidays began this year, a new movie called Wonder premiered based on a book of the same title written by R.J. Palacio. This is a story about a middle-school boy named Auggie who has a facial deformity and struggles to learn to trust new friends as he begins his journey in a public school setting. He is bullied, shamed, and loses a bit of his child-like trust on this journey. More importantly though, Wonder reveals through several narrators how one act of kindness by one person can make ripples throughout an entire student population. This story really left me wondering about the way I treated my peers growing up and even now. I have asked myself, “Have I chosen kind over being right?” The answer is not always.

R.J. Palacio wrote this story after her own child had an encounter with a girl with a facial deformity, and her response was to remove her crying toddler and leave. Since that moment, she has felt guilt and anger about her actions. Why? Because she missed out on an opportunity to show her child how to react in kindness. She missed out on a moment to teach her child that just because someone looks different from us, our first response should never be to run away, even though that is often easier. We should choose kindness, even in uncomfortable moments.

The interesting part about how she tells the story of Wonder is that it is based on the children’s perspectives. The adults are shown through the eyes of their children which helps us understand a little more about what is being modeled in their homes. The bully in this story is shown with his parents one time, and that one moment is enough insight for us to see that he has only been told that he is never good enough. We see how a friend’s home life is nothing but a mother who drinks and is never there to support her. This friend ends up lying all the time and distancing herself from what she sees as a ‘perfect family’. These are teaching moments for how quick we are to judge others, to be right, and to justify our actions, but we are often slow to choose kindness.

Wonder does an excellent job of setting up on how our negative reactions can bring another person down. As Auggie struggles to cope with overtly negative interactions, he becomes distant, sad, and disinterested in things he enjoys. The thing that changes him slowly is when one person makes a choice to sit with him at lunch. That’s it. One person showed up and started a ripple effect. I know it may seem like a fantastical set up, that only one person can have an impact, but according to relationship experts, multiple positive interactions with one person can actually make up for negative interactions.

The magical ratio for positive to negative interactions is 5:1 and was originally developed by John Gottman. This ratio means that for every 1 negative interaction, it takes 5 positive interactions to overcome that 1 negative moment. How powerful is it that to overcome one negative comment we need five positive comments to feel better? Our human nature calls for us to need positive interactions on an emotional, physical, and spiritual level in order to thrive. Otherwise we simply struggle to cope as Auggie does in Wonder. I have no doubt that we can all remember a person who has hurt us and never made up for it in some way, those memories are more prominent because we need positivity to continue on. One moment of kindness changes everything within us.

Teenagers are primed to be shown how to be kind, what steps it takes to stand up to for themselves or for others, and the majority want to do what is kind but may be intimidated. Wonder talks about ‘precepts’ and how these are words to live by, they’re kind of like life quotes that reflect a person’s values. I think the easiest step to take in making a decision to be kind is to choose our own precept and then encourage teens to find theirs. R.J. Palacio even wrote a companion book to Wonder all about precepts because she believes it is important enough for everyone to understand how our thoughts speak into our words, and our words are turned into actions.

NPR did a quick interview with R.J. Palacio on her inspiration which I touched on briefly.

This link gives more insight into how the 5:1 ratio can be applied in a classroom like setting.

Shelbie Fowler is currently a volunteer for Teen Life and has her Masters in Family Studies. She is passionate about being an advocate for family life education in order to grow families stronger.
Combating Fear in the Face of School Shootings

Combating Fear in the Face of School Shootings

Teenagers are pushed to face their fears and overcome them all the time. They fear failure, rejection, stress, the unknown, and so many other things. As adults, our job is to help them give voice to their fear and then figure out how they can find courage in the face of difficult times. But what happens when fear is deadly, random, and unpredictable? How do we respond to the understandable fear after a school shooting?

Fear cannot be ignored.

We see fear of bullies, failing a test, heights, being left, parent’s divorcing, humiliation, missing the shot, letting people down, getting sick. And now teenagers have to add the fear of getting attacked at school? We have to add the fear of our children not coming home at the end of the day?

It isn’t fair. It doesn’t make sense. But it is real and it is something that needs to be addressed.

While we do not have any answers for the tragedies that are taking place all over our country, here are a few ways that we can help combat fear.

 

Be ready for the crisis.

It is easy to react after a tragedy occurs. Once something horrible happens, we look for answers and start having conversations. But what  if we had already started these conversations? What if the ground work was already laid so that when something horrible happened, we were prepared?

It is important to talk to teenagers and kids about what is going on – in their school, city and country. They know something is wrong. They can read adults, and most have access to social media or the internet where they are probably getting more details than you would see on the evening news. We can’t avoid fear and difficult situations that happen across the country. So we need to start having conversations today. Develop a relationship with your student where you can have difficult conversations all the time. That will make these hard topics more manageable.

Here are a few tips to being ready for conversations:

  • Be shock proof: Remain calm when talking to your teens. Be genuine, but don’t let your own fear color the conversation.
  • Ask good questions: Resist the urge to lecture, but instead ask questions about what they have heard and how they are feeling.
  • Keep it appropriate: Conversations are important, but only if they are helpful. Don’t scare or over-share if your kids aren’t ready for it.
  • Be part of the solution: Get involved. Use the resources of schools and organizations, but don’t put all the responsibility on others.

 

Know your resources.

Speaking of being ready for a crisis…this is crucial! When something happens, you don’t have to walk through it by yourself – utilize the resources in your community, school and church. Maybe a resource is as simple as having another trusted adult on call if your teen would rather talk to someone outside of your house. Or be prepared if your child wants to talk to a counselor (whether it be their school counselor or another professional). Ask your church and school what resources are available – is there a series coming up that will address things like school shootings? Are support groups available on their campus? Is there an article or podcast that gives a different perspective?

There are so many resources available, and it will be incredibly helpful if you already know where to look first. Here are a few places we recommend:

  • Youth Specialties Blog: While these blogs are aimed at youth workers, they are a great resources to parents as well!
  • Teen Life: I may be a little biased, but Teen Life offers lots of great resources from our blog and podcast to Support Groups on school campuses.
  • Google: Earlier this week, someone asked us for an online resource after the Parkland shooting and by searching “how to have conversation with child about school shooting,” I found several great options!
  • Preventative Resources: Use resources like Michele Borba’s book or blog to talk about healthy things kids need to focus on. Start with this blog post!
  • Local Resources: Know what organizations are in your area! The Warm Place and Real Help For Real Life are two in Fort Worth but do some research around you.

 

Believe your kids.

It is so important to believe your kids, especially in times of fear and trial. I think sometimes we dismiss students as being dramatic or exaggerating. While teens can be dramatic, and they can exaggerate some details, is it worth not believing them if they are being completely truthful?

In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, several students said that they weren’t surprised by the identity of the shooter. They had always joked that he would shoot the school. How terrible is that? Not only that they perceived the danger, but that they either didn’t share their concerns with adults or those adults didn’t take them seriously.

We have to give our teens the benefit of the doubt. If they express worry about a classmate or friend (whether that worry is about violence or suicide or depression), we need to listen. Validate what they are seeing, teach them how to get help and how to find resources for their peers.

 


 

Fear is all around us, and it is not something that is going away, especially with the digital world we live in today. Your teenagers are more aware of what is going on around the world than we ever were. They probably knew about the Florida school shooting before you did. Instead of hiding from fear, let’s learn how to cope, have positive conversations, and find helpful resources.

 

What are some resources you have found in times of tragedy? How have you helped teens combat fear?

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.
For the Thin Times

For the Thin Times

Recently I was indulging my inner nerd and took in The Lord of the Rings – since it’s on Netflix right now. There was a quote from Bilbo Baggins at the beginning of the movie right before he left the shire to go on his final adventure:

“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”

These words can resonate with most people, and I could say many times in life would relate to this, but I felt an especially strong connection to the sentiment. It’s really a vivid description of what it feels like to have yourself pulled in multiple directions – you feel thin, stretched, incomplete, and a little scraped for extra measure.

Like so many others, we feel like there is not enough to go around. But for me, there is a deeper, more difficult issue at work. And, I think it was at work in Bilbo as well.

The context of the quote was Bilbo wanting to escape his hometown and not deal with the things he knew he needed to engage. He wanted to finish his book, do his own thing, and he perceived his hometown as an obstacle to any of that. So, he conjured up excuses so he could escape – in dramatic fashion to boot (I’d love to have a magic ring like that).

That’s the problem for so many of us. We get truly overwhelmed or overstretched because we are actually just avoiding the things we need to be doing. In fact I’d go so far to say a lot of the things we think are keeping us busy are not even real or true – just something that keeps us distracted.

You want proof? As I’m writing this blog I have found numerous ways to distract myself from actually getting this done. It’s not that I dislike writing, but to create something like a blog takes work, concentration, and dedication – all things that are easily neutralized by a peek at Twitter.

Ok, I’m back again. So what was I saying? Oh yeah – distractions….

You see, just like Bilbo, I do feel stretched but I need to be honest with myself about what that actually means. Do I have too much going on? Or are the things I have in my life all important enough to keep around? The truth is if I eliminated some of the things that keep me distracted, it would force me to actually engage in more important, meaningful work.

Bilbo probably needed to stay in his hometown, deal with his family issues, and just write his book. As Seth Godin puts it, maybe we don’t need more butter – we just need less bread to spread it across.

Teenagers are on the front lines of feeling thin. Many have 7-8 completely different subjects to deal with every day at school, let alone the social and emotional pressures of adolescence. And, they are kind of thrust into it. So many report feeling anxious and frustrated with their situation and will start to struggle.

So for them (and us), how can we feel less thin as we navigate a complicated world? A few ideas…

  1. Find your space – whether it is an outdoor walk, time to read and reflect, a good workout, or prayer time – and make it a priority. These are the times where priorities begin to shift because you actually have time to think.
  2. Quit or suspend one of your social media accounts. Wait, what? Yeah, give it a try. Don’t worry, it will be there if you have to break the glass and pull the lever. Those things never go away. See how it feels to live without a Facebook account for a while. You might actually like it.
  3. Examine what is actually keeping you busy vs. what actually needs to be accomplished. This takes honesty and time but would be worthwhile. Make a list, a Venn diagram, something that works for you.

As loving adults in the lives of teenagers, we need to communicate a sense of peace in the chaos. Yes, we have so much going on, but we also have the opportunity to model what it looks like to know what is truly important – for the thin times.

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s COO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
Seismic Shifts – Can You See Them?

Seismic Shifts – Can You See Them?

Seismic shifts are defined as small changes and adjustments by tectonic plates, or the plates that move under the earth. Tectonic plates shift at a rate of approximately 2 to 5 cm a year. To put it in perspective, that is about the rate that your fingernails grow. But collectively over time, multiple seismic shifts lead to earthquakes. Some are small and barely noticeable. Others are large and massively destructive, such as the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 that killed over 225,000 people and displaced millions. To quote Jonathan and Thomas McKee in their book The New Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer, seismic shifts are “small changes and adjustments that cause a massive transformation.”

Culturally, we have experienced many seismic shifts over the last 15 to 20 years. A few examples as given by the McKees:

  1. Family structures have changed. My husband teaches 4th grade. In his classroom of 24 students, he has only 4 students who live at home with both their mom and dad. Everyone else lives in a varying family structure.
  2. Technology has advanced. Obvious as this one may sound, let me remind you that Apple only released its first iPhone in June 2007.
  3. Smaller community is more common – According to the 2009 Pew Internet and American Life Project, the average size of an American’s core network of close friends has dropped by 1/3 since 1985. Some studies suggest that loneliness is at an all-time high, affecting as much as 45% of the population.

 

Now, take a step back and think about the youth you work with every day. Not only have they been impacted by these cultural seismic shifts, but they are also impacted by personal seismic shifts as well. Seemingly small events, some obvious and others not, can result in a seismic shift in behavior. We have all seen it – the barely noticeable but definitely occurring movements or the big explosions that catch us off guard. It could be a comment on social media, a picture shared without permission, the gain or loss of a part-time job, a change in the status of a long-term friendship. Even expected transitions such as starting high school, or the added freedoms that come with learning to drive or having friends that do – these all result in shifts.

How aware are you of the small shifts? Do you see them when they happen? Do you look for them after the destructive quake has happened to see if there is a cause? Seeing the small shifts and processing them is instrumental in working with teens.

The other aspect of seismic shifts is the reality that we can positively impact teens by purposefully having small, but meaningful interactions. It’s as simple as noticing when someone seems like they are having a bad day or remembering to ask about a situation that they mentioned previously. It could be providing a resource they might shrug off today but grab onto down the road. It’s showing up to an event or listening well to a concern. The opportunities to create shifts abound if we are looking for them.

 

Do you see the seismic shifts in the lives of youth around you? Are you purposefully loving well and creating seismic shifts of your own?

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.
Worry Is The Answer

Worry Is The Answer

Do you worry? I do.

Is your goal to remove all of the worry in your life? It has been mine for most of my life.

I still distinctly remember the fear and worry in college of not knowing what was next. I even remember telling people closest to me, “I wish God would send a postcard with instructions so I know I’m making the right choice.” First, there was a flaw in my thinking that the choice was about what I should do rather than who I am. A lesson I have learned from many respected mentors and leaders like John Maxwell, Michael Hyatt, and others.

In our world today, there is a lot of talk about removing barriers, stress, anxiety and roadblocks. While this is often necessary, when it becomes our full focus and effort, we can lose an opportunity to understand where to find answers by moving too quickly past a learning opportunity.

No doubt this is not a new idea. I am sure it has formed out of the reading and listening I have done, especially the past 5 years. By listening to other successful people, new ideas come to light and clarity is gained. That being the case, this time it was a conversation with my 10 year old that brought the important piece to the surface.

I get to take my son to school daily. This is some great time spent together that I am thankful for. This particular day, I asked him two questions I ask two or three times a week.

“What are you looking forward to at school today?”

“What are you worried about today?”

This time he had a specific thing he was worried about. The elementary spelling bee was coming, and he had been invited to participate and was tasked with studying the word list. His worry was that he was not going to do well during the event because he had not been studying. Without really thinking I said, “You don’t have to worry about that. If you haven’t been studying, you won’t do well. So no need to worry, you already know.” This may sound harsh, but he understood what I meant as I went on to explain that if he isn’t studying, he should expect to not do well. But also that if he is worried and knows studying could help, he can choose. He can either not study and expect to not do well or study and be proud he did his best no matter what happens at the Bee. Either way, the worry is dealt with and not just ignored.

I think the lesson here is that we want to remove worry or ignore it, but it is possible that the worry may be revealing some useful information that could help us move to the next level.

So here are my suggestions for dealing with worry in your life and mine, not just removing it.

  1. Listen to the worry. Don’t dismiss it too quickly. You may miss an important indication that leads you to just the right answer you are looking for.
  2. Seek others’ input. We all need people around us to help us in life, especially through difficult times. Find a trusted advisor or mentor and confide in them what is worrying you and see if they can help you gain some clarity about the direction you need to head.
  3. Don’t let the worry turn into fear. I cannot count the number of things I have missed out on because I let worry turn into fear and defeat me from accomplishing something before I even started. I am working hard to reduce the number of times this happens in my life, and I hope you will too.
  4. Make a plan to process the worry. Maybe have a dedicated journal or app to record what is worrying you, and then spend time processing what you might be able to learn from the worry.
  5. Don’t hesitate to ignore worry when it isn’t helpful. Even though there are times this mentality can be helpful, we face a lot of worry in life, and the reality that much of it is not worth our attention is worth recognizing. So when you worry about things out of your control or that are unrealistic, simply say to yourself, “I’m choosing to worry about the things that matter.”

I’ll leave you with this. My son did participate in the spelling bee and he did pretty good, too. He actually did really good! He placed 3rd! Out of nearly 40 students in grades 3-5 at his school, he had the courage, stamina and focus to spell words I’ve never heard of correctly. Was it my comment that made the difference? Probably not as much as I would like to think, but the principle and mental perspective to think differently about what he needed to do, I hope, was helpful.

 

So what in your life have you ignored or tried to remove that could actually have some benefit or provide you with some insight as to how to take your next step and maybe even what that step should be? Let us know!

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.
Raising Baby Grown-Ups

Raising Baby Grown-Ups

As the mom of a baby, some days the teenage years (and stages without diapers) seem forever away. Other times I look at the high school boys that my husband coaches, and I see my baby grow into a full man in a matter of seconds. I can’t begin to imagine how fast these years are going to fly by, but I honestly can’t wait! I do not wish this phase to pass, but I also do not dread the teenage years like many parents – they are full of opportunity. If you are dreading the teenage years or are ankle deep in raising baby grown-ups, I hope you’ll indulge my new-mom-optimism and let me restore some hope.

I recently just finished Jen Hatmaker’s newest book Of Mess and Moxie. There are so many nuggets that could be pulled from this book, but I especially loved a chapter near the end called “String Eighteen Parties Together.” Jen is all about her teenagers and brings a perspective that is rare in this culture where teenagers are considered difficult, lazy, full of drama, and a parent’s worst nightmare.

As someone who works with teenagers and will someday raise teenagers, I probably highlighted half of this chapter, and it was full of wisdom in these areas:

Choosing to like teenagers – Jen simply states, “I planned on adoring the teen years, so I do.” If you are predisposed to hate the teen years, you are probably going to be miserable for a solid 5-8 years of your child’s life. But what if we chose to enjoy adolescence? Maybe you have littles like me, or maybe you are in the middle of teen years, or maybe you are looking back on the teen years with relief (or regret). Whatever your life stage, you can still choose to enjoy teenagers. In my experience, they are hilarious, honest, and full of energy. They may eat you out of house and home and fill your house with mud and stinky shoes, but there will also be moments where they send you a text that makes you laugh out loud, or make a decision that proves they’ve been listening this whole time. Choose right now, today, to enjoy the teenage years. Having the right attitude can make a huge difference in your own response.

Finding friends to walk the teen years with – Jen Hatmaker discusses the importance of having people around you who will not only encourage, but also help lighten you up and give perspective. We were all teenagers once. You probably drove your mom crazy, but it is so easy to forget that when you are staring a big teenage problem in the face. As she puts it, we need to “handle this stage with solidarity and grace, not shock and superiority.” If you are parenting without the help of friends, church, or community, then I encourage you to get some help! Life is so much better when you have people to laugh and cry with. Find people who are raising kids around the same age as you and cling to their support and similar experiences. Seek out those who have already raised teenagers and listen to their wisdom. Surround your teens with other people who don’t have teens but can be mentors, unbiased voices, and trusted confidants. It takes a village!

Remaining approachable and shock-proof – You have heard us say this before, but we have to be a safe place for teenagers! This requires us to be a place where they can ask questions and be honest without fear of our reactions. What they say is not a deal-breaker. The questions they ask cannot shake us. The things they admit do not change our feelings about them. This is so difficult but so important. If you freak out, cry, yell or react in a way that scares them, they won’t share with you again. Instead, make it known that you are there for them. Ask questions about tough topics so they know you won’t scare easily. It will probably be just as awkward for them as it is for you, but ask them about sex, parties, friends, doubts, fears and goals.

I will leave you with this last quote from her book that made me nod my head and write “Amen!” in the margins of my book:

When you have no earthly idea how to respond yet, just say: “Tell me more about that,” or “I’m listening and need a bit of time to think about this,” or “I’m glad you told me, and we will work this out together.” Keep it open, keep it mutual, stay on the same team instead of isolating your kid. Our teens need to know that we are for them and with them, not just when they are performing well but in struggle, failure, calamity. This is, after all, exactly how God loves us.

 

Keep up the good work, you are doing great work in the raising of teenagers. You are raising the future adults and parents of the world, and these years will pass in a flash! We are here with you, cheering you on and loving your teens. Have you found something else that has helped you raise teenagers? Share with us! 

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.