What Can I Learn?

What Can I Learn?

School is about to start! Some of you are jumping for joy, and others are trying to figure out how to delay that inevitable day a little longer.
As the year starts, I hope that you are able to find a sense of why school is worth your time and effort. Don’t worry, I remember not wanting to go back too. Since then, I have learned a lot about the importance of prioritizing learning and have even begun the habit of reading multiple books at the same time. (Currently: The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork by John Maxwell, The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch, Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms by Lissa Evans and The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom).

For years I didn’t read anything because I felt I didn’t have time. Thankfully I began listening to things that helped me realize I didn’t have time NOT to read. The necessity of learning by reading and listening to podcasts and audiobooks has been made clear, and it has led me to one question that stands out in any situation I am faced with. This can be personal, business, relational or anything. If you embrace this one question and release the desire for control of the situation, the payoff is worth every ounce of effort you put into this change in perspective.

Here is the question: “What can I learn?” This applies to a positive situation, a negative situation, or a neutral situation. You can ask this anytime, anywhere, about anything. So how do we narrow the focus and apply this as the school year starts to get the most out of this year?

First of all, I assume that this blog is mostly read by adults, not teenagers. So if you are a teen, be sure to read below understanding that it is intended for someone helping you understand the concept. This may mean some things feel they don’t apply. I would ask that you talk with an adult about the information. Not because you can’t understand it, but because their life experience may help them read this differently than you. In the end, hopefully you will both be better off from simply having a conversation about it.

Use these steps as a guide to get the most out of this school year.

Don’t assume adversity is bad. The tendency more and more is to assume that when we meet resistance or conflict, we must turn the other way, fight, or reject the interaction. This is becoming more and more the case with teenagers who lack empathy and who have at their disposal a constant connection to be able to find the type of interaction they crave. There is no need to push through an uncomfortable exchange with a peer or teacher because it is easy to find a more pleasant one somewhere else

The problem here is that there may be a significant lesson to be learned. That may be patience or some self awareness or something new about that person that gives us insight we didn’t have before. If the immediate reaction is to remove the tension, we miss this opportunity. If we instead ask, “What can I learn?”, there is the distinct possibility we will get something signifiant from the interaction. It may be that we do not want to engage that person again. But we don’t really know that if we are retreating. We can know that if our brain is working to understand what we can get out of the situation.

You won’t waste a class ever again. Since becoming a more active learner, one of the things that stands out when listening to others is the comment that something is a waste of time. This is a very empty comment. Most often what they are meaning is that they would rather be doing something else. Not necessarily something more worth while, just something else. The truth is whether something is a waste of time is up to each of us. If we give that power to the person teaching the class, giving the lecture, or coaching us on fundamentals, we have willingly relinquished our ability to gain anything and better ourselves. The idea that you can learn in any situation reclaims that power and brings ownership back to me as the person choosing to spend my time a certain way. You may try to argue that someone else set your schedule, you had to take that class, or the company paid for conference you didn’t want to go to. Think about it, that is really beside the point. In any of those situations, you are still looking for reason not to engage and to blame someone else for why you are getting nothing out of the experience. Instead, look at it as a chance to either decide to seek out more learning from that person, or organization, or to eliminate them from your resources. You can’t know this though until you try to learn something from them first.

Have a plan to share something after a learning experience. The idea that you are always learning can be overwhelming. It can seem like you will never be able to recall what you need to know, and therefore, what’s the point. Truth be told, this is what kept me from reading much for about 10 years. I am a bit of a slow reader and thought if I can’t remember what I read, it’s pointless. What I have since realized is that the act of reading is part of the exercise. It helps keep my brain working and growing. I have also realized that sharing something I have learned helps me hold onto the most important parts. The Principles. After listenting and reading long enough, I now understand that there are some basic principles that drive most of what we do. In order for those principles to be reinforced though, we need to hear them often and in many different ways so that we can execute them in our particular situation so the people we are helping with our work can benefit.

Think of it this way. You may go to a three day conference but come home and apply one of the principles you learned in hours of training to work or family and it changes not just you, but the people around you. Maybe you listen to an audiobook for 12 hours, in increments of 30 minute commute trips to and from work. In those 12 hours, you can’t recall anything but you do know as you listened, you began to feel differently about your life, increase your confidence and become more self aware, allowing you to work harder be a better spouse or parent and see down the road possibilities that you never knew existed. It wasn’t about the content, it was about choosing to ask, “What can I learn?”

So how do you take this and begin helping your teenagers (elementary kids in my instance) have an attitude of learning? Where their default is not that things are boring, and they wish they were somewhere else, but that they are always looking to learn something no mattter how small? The sooner this can begin, the more they will learn, and the better off they will be.

Try this first: simply ask them daily “What did you learn today?” Then sit back and be okay with the answer. If they say, “Nothing,” keep asking until they get to the point that they realize the possibility to learn something from any situation they find themselves in. This foundational lesson will be invaluable and lead to a lot less wasted time (because they won’t see it that way). Don’t do what I did and miss out on a decade of potential learning simply because of a choice. Instead choose now to learn something from everything.

“What can you learn today?” Share with us what you learned just from this post. We love hearing from you.

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

Back to Baby Basics

This summer has brought some changes for our family. Huge change in fact in the form of a precious little boy named Sawyer. I promise to get to the point of this post soon, but first – who doesn’t love some cute baby pictures??
 

 

Having a baby and spending time at home this summer with him has completely changed my perspective. People expect you to take off from work, forget about house chores and just spend time with your sweet little one. So much importance is placed on enjoying and getting to know your baby – as it should be! But why does this only apply when our children are infants? Even though I am a rookie mom and newbie parent, I think there are several baby-parenting tactics that we should apply to parenting teens. They may be half-grown and independent (or so they think), but these teenage years are so critical for their development and your family!

Here are a few things that I believe we can learn from those beginning days of parenting that can benefit the relationship you share with your teenager:

 

Dedicated Meal Times

I am a huge believer in the power of meals and their ability to bring people together. Perfect strangers are friends at the end of a meal. Two people can begin a romantic relationship over a meal. And people are comforted, encouraged and uplifted through meal conversations. Meals are so important.

When kids are little, meals require alot of attention. Meal times are all about them, whether they are a babies and parents (mainly moms) have to put down everything to feed them the milk they need, or they are toddlers and it is all out warfare to get a bite of food in their moving, screaming mouths. When do we lose the desire to set aside dedicated time for meals? I know life is busy. I know it isn’t always possible to eat every meal at home, but teenagers need dedicated time from you!

This mealtime can look different for every family. Maybe it is ordering pizza and eating on paper. Maybe it is grabbing a quick bite after football practice at your favorite fast food restaurant. Or maybe it includes a homemade meal and set table (good for you!). Whatever your situation looks like, take time to silence phones, turn off televisions, get rid of distractions and share a meal with your family. Ask about school and tell them about your day in return. Find out more about friends and hobbies. Talk about future plans and silly things like their favorite TV shows. They need that time, and I bet you’ll find that you do, too! In fact, Andy and Sandra Stanley talk about this in a series on family. (You can watch it here! Start at 22:00 to begin where they talk about family dinners.)

 

Intentional Routines

When children are little, we have routines for everything. A morning routine – wake up, change diaper, put on fresh clothes. A nightly routine – bath time, change into pjs, read a book, goodnight kisses. Imagine if we had routines with our teenagers…seems silly, right? But these don’t have to include reading them a book or rocking them to sleep. It doesn’t even have to be a bedtime routine!

Last season of the Stay Calm, Don’t Panic! Podcast, Chris Robey discussed this very topic with Dr. Mark DeYoung in the episode “4 Ways the ‘Check-In’ Transforms Relationships.” I encourage you to go listen to this podcast! There are so many benefits to asking teens how they are doing and making it part of a routine. I discussed a dinner routine above, but maybe your routine is as simple as asking one question in the car on the way home from school. Or asking them to say goodnight before they go to bed and speaking truth over them at that time. Create a routine so your teenager knows what to expect from you. Ask good questions and speak words of encouragement.

 

Realistic Expectations

Sawyer is now a month and a half old. He is still a baby and therefore, acts like a baby. Duh, right? You wouldn’t expect my baby to walk, talk, or use the bathroom by himself. If he cries, I am not surprised. When he has a blowout diaper, I don’t get upset with him. I am enjoying every moment of this baby stage – the good, bad, and the stinky.

We need to apply the same principle with teenagers. They are going to mess up, make decisions you don’t understand, get caught up in drama. I fear that adults often fall into the trap of treating teenagers like children while placing adult expectations on them. We hover and control while also getting upset when they don’t make choices we approve of. They are still trying to figure out who they are. They need a little guidance and a whole lot of grace! If you place unrealistic expectations on your teenager, you will be as frustrated as I would be if I expected Sawyer to change his own diapers.

Let’s go back to the days where our children were more important than clean houses and home cooked meals. I beg you to take the time to get to know your teenager! What do you think about this? Are there other baby-parenting practices that you can apply to parenting teenagers?

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.
Give In To The Resistance – Repost

Give In To The Resistance – Repost

This week's post is another repost chosen by me, Maddi, also known as the intern. I chose this post because instead of urging parents to limit the amount of technology their children are getting, which I agree with, Ricky simply does the opposite. It's important to understand how most teens are communicating with their peers in order to understand how to communicate with them yourselves. All our lives would be much easier if we simply made an effort to understand one another, including this. Technology is something that isn't going to go away any time soon, and it's only getting easier to access for younger generations. Take a look at Ricky's tips on how to become more comfortable with the technological world growing around us.

I just watched a Today Show piece on limiting your technology intake, but it seemed extreme even to me. The person featured was taking a completely disconnected approach. She deleted her social media (Jenna Hoda deleted her social media too, but they had another lady on that took it further) from her phone and left her phone at home when she went out. In other words she reverted to the days when she had only a home phone.

Here is the problem. That isn’t going to last. I am guilty too. I have talked in the past about staying away from new forms of connecting, but the problem is they aren’t going away.

 
I have even heard that people didn’t want to believe cars would be something that lasted either. In the 80’s, people wrote about the dangers of the home telephone. Each step made in technology has been met with initial resistance, sometimes even resulting in people reverting back to something old.

 
So what should we do instead? The reality is the people doing the tech piece on Today Show were mostly over 40. I believe that says something about the legitimacy of the perspective.

 
I’m offering a new point of view, let’s embrace the change. Carefully, thoughtfully, but embracing and engaging it. Using social media will get us to a much more effective end than resisting and missing opportunities to learn new ways of engaging the world around us.
 

There are so many good things that technology and social media can allow us to do, and if we don’t embrace that change, we will never discover what those things are. Someone might, but you may be forfeiting an opportunity.
 

Let’s embrace change.

 
I am all for safety and digital awareness that factors in time spent online and filtering that is literally healthy for our mind and soul. However, we are far past the point of return where we can believe that deleting social media apps or not having online access is a possibility in the future (baring an apocalyptic loss of electricity or the whole internet).

 
So here are 5 tips to embrace the change and still keep our sanity. On the positive high side, it could even mean doing something good for yourself or others.

 
1 Be in charge. Technology is a tool, not a toy or a distraction. It can be, but you need do drastic things to use it for what you intend it for. For example, I decided over a year ago that I would delete all but kids games (which I’m not tempted to play) off of my phone. So if I am sitting at the oil change station, I’m not tempted to waste time playing. I can either work or leave my phone in my pocket.

2 Use the settings to your benefit. Automate as much as possible. If you find that during the day you’re particularly distracted at a certain time, set a “Do not disturbed” to activate during that time. Or better yet, just turn on Do Not Disturb at key times like when driving, for an hour of reading in the morning, while dedicating 50 minutes to a task. Trust me, people can wait that long for a response. Why? Because they’re too busy being distracted to remember they called you anyway!

3 Find the apps that are most useful and put them on your home screen. The first screen you see each time you open should prompt your mind to think of what you should focus on. Ideally this would have no folders. If you do, you probably have too many things fighting for your attention. Rearrange your apps to create a virtual focal point on the apps that lead to your most productive tasks.

4 Share, share, share! Since I got my first iPhone in 2011, I have not stopped learning new things. From podcast to TED talks, from YouTube DIY channels to online blogs, audio books (you totally need the Libby public library app) to Airdrop, all of it makes sharing things that make my life better and easier. You can choose to focus on the negative things available to all of us but this has been a choice since the beginning of time. So stop spreading the fear and start sharing the things that make your life and mine better.

5 Breaks have always been good. Taking a break has always been a way for people to recharge. This has little to do with technology and a lot to do with the way we as humans are wired. Choose the way that is right for you and then stick to it. Use that time to refocus and come back better than ever to engage the world (quite literally) again, bringing your most promising contribution to anyone ready to listen.

 
So now what? What do you do with a blog that promotes more technology use in a world that is saying to slow down and back off. Well, that’s up to you. But I would suggest you evaluate and move forward. If you get stuck not knowing what to do or are paralyzed by fear that something bad is going to happen, you will miss an amazing opportunity that literally never existed before.

What about you? What ways have you found to embrace the change and give in to the resistance?

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
A Few Words For Helpers

A Few Words For Helpers

I had an encounter with a situation recently that got me thinking about how we as adults can best help teenagers. A little context:

Upon arriving at my office, I had a friend of our organization waiting on me with a teenager sitting next to them. It was obvious there was something going on, so I sat down with them to talk through the issue.

It turns out the teenager wasn’t related to the adult, but the adult had a mentoring relationship with this teenager and knew their mom. In recent weeks the family situation had disintegrated and essentially this teenager was dumped on our friend and threats were made that the teenager was going to be kicked out of the house. So sitting in front of me was a well meaning adult, and an unrelated teenager who had nowhere else to go.

Tough doesn’t even start to describe this situation.

In fact I would argue these kinds of situations are the reason many adults don’t want to work with teenagers much outside of their own family situation.

It’s messy.

But the truth is, we need more. Teen Life has opportunities daily to interact with teenagers from all walks of life, cultural and religious background, and social status. Some have incredible families and support structures, while others have literally nothing. Some have advantage while others seem to have the world actively battling against them.

But the one thing they all have in common is this – they need support and presence from adults. No matter how well off they might seem, someone has to be there for them who have lived longer and has more life experience. This cannot be replaced.

Thinking back on our friend who came into our office, I think about how much they were trying to be supportive and available to a teenager who was losing everything. But, she was there. She showed up. What we talked about that morning would seem to help others as they help teenagers, so here it goes:

  1. Know your boundaries

Our friend was well meaning, but needed some help (and permission) to set boundaries not only with the teenager, but with their parents. Both were misbehaving badly and wanted someone to be a part of it. In the counseling world it is called “triangulation”. Simply, when people are in pain or at a loss they find someone else to project the stress they are feeling onto so it won’t hurt so bad or they won’t have to deal with the problem.

Boundaries are crucial when working with anyone, especially teenagers. They teach and protect. Knowing what you are wiling to do and where you need to stop can allow for a clear path through a difficult situation.

  1. De-escalate the situation

When you come upon a situation where there is stress, do everything you can to calm the stress. Find a way to create space for everyone to cool off. Go on a walk. Play with playdoh. Build something with legos. Write or draw. Listen to some music. As a helper, find a way to create safe space for clear thought. When teens and families are in a state of stress, clear communication and resolution is relatively impossible. Find a way to de-escalate and reduce the stress.

  1. Know your resources. 

Most communities have some support system in place with professionals and lay people equipped to serve vulnerable populations. Whether it be a local non-profit, faith community, or school, there is help to be found. Often for the helper of teenagers, their issues and demands can be daunting. But if you know there is help available, it helps you to stick around.

Typically these resources can be found either via web, call in services (like the National Suicide Prevention Hotline or 211), or by making a few phone calls to community leaders. Our experience has told us we are only a few phone calls from getting the resource we need. Don’t be afraid to make a few calls.

  1. Refer, refer, refer. 

I’m sure you are a smart person if you are willing to help a teenager but, you don’t know it all. Don’t be afraid, especially after having a working knowledge of the resources in your community, to refer to trusted sources. Bring the community in to help. Let them shoulder some of this load.

So in summary –

Know your boundaries,

De-escalate the situation,

Know your resources,

Refer, refer, refer.

What do you think about this? How have these ideas helped you in the past?

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s Program Director, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
Mean What You Say

Mean What You Say

Don’t worry this isn’t a post about lying or “stretching the truth”. My thoughts are more in line with the intentionality we should use with our words. The core idea is that we should, generally speaking, talk less and listen more.

While that would be nice it is often hard to do. Especially if you are leading people or if you are parenting. There is a time for listening but there is also a responsibility to share your knowledge and wisdom with the people that are looking to you to direct them. Once you have listened, choose your words carefully so that they can intentionally help increase communication. If what you say prompts people to ask questions about what you are saying that is a good thing. If the questions are centered around gaining clarification about the task you are asking them to do that’s even better.

 
The hope here is that there are some ways you can bring some intentionality to the way you word things that helps to increase communication and invite conversation. With teenagers this is a key to getting the information you need from them to help them or to realize that they don’t need your help. There are plenty of communication lessons you can learn out there but today I want to focus on how the way we word things can make a lot of the difference.

 
When you say something you should mean it. I hear adults often threaten the youth they work with but everyone, including the youth, know they would never follow through on what is being threatened. This is a tough thing at times but it is definitely not impossible. The truth is it is much better to take a step back and use less harsh language that you are able to follow through on than threatening something huge that there is no way you will follow through on or worse that if you did you would regret it.

 
Think about how certain phrases can either teach or hinder learning. The students you work with need to learn from you. And to complicate things they will likely have different learning styles than you. So thinking clearly about how to phrase things is very helpful. Working out in your mind how to put things simply and then wait for their clarifying questions is a job that is tough but worth the effort. If, as adults, we think through the possible ways a conversation can play out (based on how well we know the teenager) we will help move things forward much more effectively by using the least amount of explanation possible. The truth is with teenagers it is not necessary to explain all the details. They are learning from a lot of different places so it may be true that they have gained information we didn’t give them and can apply it to the situation that is unfolding before you. Allowing this to happen can save a lot of frustration and time for both you and the teen.

 
Sometimes leaving out words or whole sentences benefits the conversation. We often think that we can just give all the information to a person and they will grasp it and will be able to tackle the task at hand and accomplish what we want them to. The truth is sometimes leaving out little details can actually help the person by allowing them to figure out certain pieces of the task themselves. It may also requested them to ask for help and the process of them knowing what they need actually helps them understand problem solving better than if you just gave them the answer from the beginning. This must be used very deliberately and not as a test (although there is a place for that) but instead as a way to challenge someone who is needing to learn and possibly even experience some failure. 

 
These 3 approaches to working inside of relationships will help you to reduce stress that often comes from the give and take of conversations. Implementing them takes knowing the people you are interacting with. They will not work the same with everyone but instead will need to be carefully evaluated and used with discretion in order to gain the most beneficial outcome. 

 
What are some ways you have found that you can mean what you say in order to gain the most benefit out of your interactions with students?

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
Repost: Why Empathy Matters

Repost: Why Empathy Matters

This week’s blog post is most likely to bring some deja vu to any dedicated readers of TeenLife. My name is Maddi and I work as an intern for TeenLife. This week I was asked by Ricky to find an old blog post that I connected to and repost it. After looking through many old posts more than once, I found one that was written pretty recently that really spoke to me. I have had my fair share of difficulties in life and have even participated in a support group provided by TeenLife since 2014. In this group I experienced, and continue to experience, true empathy. For the first time I was in a safe place that I felt comfortable talking about my troubles in. I had previously attempted to confide in my closest friends but found that to not be very helpful. Of course they had the best intentions and did their best to try and help me through my hard times, but there was no way they could have understood what I was going through. In this group I was in a place surrounded by people that weren’t trying to make me feel better by spouting the typical lines most people do. They understood what I was going through and empathized with me. I chose this blog post because most people choose to sympathize rather than empathize. My hope is by reading this you will realize how to be the type of person a friend can and will go to for help. 

This post originally posted in May right before our Spring Fundraising Event. 

Tomorrow is our Feed the Need Packing Party, and we are so excited to help more teenagers through the meals packed and funds raised through this fundraiser.

As we prepare for this fundraiser, I can’t help but think of the faces and stories of teenagers that I get to work with on a weekly basis. Their pain is real. Their success changes lives. Their questions are relevant. Their stories change my perspective.

You may be asking yourself, “How deep can you really go with teenagers when you only see them once a week for an hour? Do they actually share? What could they be dealing with that could rival adult problems?”

You would be shocked.

I can learn more about a teen in a one-hour Support Group meeting than many people can find out over months.

How is this possible?

Empathy.

Empathy makes all the difference in the world. In these Support Groups, we are not asking questions because we want to be nosy, tell them what they are doing wrong, or even fix their lives. We ask questions because we want to step into life with them, even when it’s hard and there is no easy fix in sight.

I absolutely love the Brené Brown video below. She expertly describes the difference between empathy and sympathy while revealing the power of showing true empathy in difficult circumstances.

When you watch the video, you can see that empathy is a powerful tool, especially when dealing with teenagers.

Just this year alone, I have had teenagers tell me about:

  • Broken home lives where they are forced to choose who they want to live with.
  • Families who encourage drug use while they are trying to stay clean.
  • Fathers who bring their mistress into the home while mom tries to keep the family together.
  • 30-hour work weeks to help the family pay medical bills.
  • A fear of graduation because that is when they will be kicked out of their house.
  • Extreme racism and name calling in a work environment.

Do I have the answers to these problems? Can I come up with magic words to make the hurt go away?

Absolutely not!

But I can listen. I can tell them that I am so sorry they are having to deal with such difficult life circumstances. I can sit in a chair beside them and step into their world for an hour a week. I can give them a safe, judgement-free zone to talk about their lives and problems.

I can empathize.

I encourage you to try some of the tactics mentioned in the video and to avoid phrases like “at least.” Step into a teenager’s shoes, crawl down into the pit with them, and show that someone cares and wants to listen.

In order for us to continue to provide these Support Groups and show empathy, we have our annual fundraiser. And so I also encourage you to get involved with our fundraiser! You can donate, pray, volunteer or simply share our fundraising page with friends to raise more awareness and help us reach our goal. It is not too late to make a difference in the lives of teenagers – join 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.