I often get asked how our Teen Lifeline curriculum works. Do we have a curriculum focused on anger management, grief or alcohol? My answer is always longer then people expect because when I say “No,” it involves an explanation of why that is the case.
We had another successful training a couple of weeks ago that put our number of trained volunteers over 80 people. This is very exciting for me and I hope for you too because it means reaching more teenagers! In that training, we explain a lot about the strategy behind our approach and curriculum, and how and why we use volunteers. For this post, I just want to focus on the core of why we believe the approach we have chosen will work when facilitating support groups for teenagers. For more on the impact we believe our groups have, you can read about the importance of Facing the Storms that will inevitably pour down on each of us in our life time.
To go back and answer the question that I began with, no we do not have topical based curriculum. There is a reason for this and I will get that soon.
We often get asked to talk about what we do at Teen Lifeline. There are several ways to explain it and you can find some of them on our Support Groups or Teen Parents page. However, I find that people often want to know more practically what we are up to and for that I have found a story that I feel communicates well what our teen support groups are all about.
I was reading a book called Take the Stairs by Rory Vanden. In it he talks about being from Colorado and the he sees life lessons in nature.
In Colorado you have the beautiful Rocky Mountains. As majestic and amazing as they are they can also be terrifying and daunting at times. This is also for many of the animals that live on and around the mountains. One such case of majesty that comes with these mountains are storms. These storms are huge, they roll in and you can watch them as they form and come over the tops of the mountains then roll across the landscape or over your head as the case may be.
As beautiful as these may be animals must deal with these elements in their own way. Two such cases are the buffalo and cattle. Both live on the plains and, no doubt, enjoy the weather much of the time, they also face the storms that come but in very different ways.
We are so honored to add a third member to our staff. I hope you will join us in welcoming her when you see her or by sending an email, after all communication is going to be her role with us.
Karlie Duke (Hatchett) joins us after just completing an internship with us this summer. She graduated from ACU this past May with a degree in Communications and a minor in Family Studies and English. She is thrilled to be with us and we are excited about what her role means for us as an organization.
These past 6 years have been amazing and if you had asked me in 2008 when we began where we would be right now I could not have predicted what is happening. The request for our groups continues to grow and students responses are very encouraging. In addition the response from schools continues to be very positive. In fact you can see that in the survey results Karlie helped lay out this summer. (Hint: It’s good when all the schools want us back.)
All that said, what is Karlie here to do? I’m glad you asked.
This past week I had the opportunity to travel with our church’s youth group to Nashville, TN on a mission trip. After years and years of leading these kinds of trips, this was the first one I wasn’t in charge of, and thus had some more time on my hands to simply observe and enjoy. We worked with an organization called Y.E.S. (Youth Encouragement Services) which has three different locations spread throughout Nashville. The closest thing I could compare it to is a Boys and Girls club, but with several differences.
Y.E.S. serves kids from ages 4 to seniors in high school. All in the same gym. Now, everything I have ever been taught about working with kids told me a place like this would never work. How on God’s green earth would a four year old be able to effectively interface with a senior in high school? Wouldn’t the senior think playing with a four year old as something stupid and not worth the time?
Well, as you might think – I was wrong. I am a lot, actually. Immediately, we were struck by the simplicity and beauty of this organization. The main leader, David, simply had to blow his whistle once and all of the kids lined up and got quiet to hear him share what they were going to do today. Really. 80 kids got quiet at the sound of one whistle. And, it isn’t what you think. This guy wasn’t a drill sergeant or an intimidator. Those kids simply respected and trusted him.
So, why was this? The simple fact 80 students would fall silent at a whistle stupefied me for most of the week. There was no good reason outside of abject fear these little kids would be so respectful and “bought in” to what was going on at Y.E.S.
After many conversations and observations throughout the week, I concluded the main reason these little kids were so into what was going on with Y.E.S. boiled down to the teenagers in the room. There was a small handful of students 9th-12th grade who had been in the program since they were young. Several of these students were even older than 12th grade and were serving as interns and assistants. When one of the little kids broke one of the rules, it was the teenagers who went over and corrected them, not the director. When the director blew the whistle, the teenagers got quiet too. They served food, cleaned up, played with the kids, and even took out the trash.
The fact these teenagers were so invested taught me three things about not only working with teenagers, but how to build community with teenagers.
1. Teenagers can rise to the occasion.
If you watch commercials or anything on TV, you would assume most teenagers are drooling idiots, married to their phones, and completely disconnected with reality. While with some this may be true, seeing these students rise to the occasion of leading within this organization shows that the expectations were set really high. Simply, if they wanted to be part of Y.E.S, they would have to be invested in its welfare. The little kids needed to see them care about what happened within those walls. I believe the director set a really high standard for these older kids….and it shows in their leadership.
Too often we fail to realize the potential in our students. Yes, they are at a rather flakey stage of life (adolescence), but setting the bar high will never do a disservice. Yes, you might be disappointed from time to time, but when a student understands you have great expectations for who they are and what they become, they tend to rise to those levels.
2. We need to stick with our students.
As those who work with students, we need to be willing to be consistent and constant as they develop. All teenagers can be difficult at times and will likely disappoint us, but what if we stuck with them for the long haul, no matter what? Seeing these students who had been under the care of David for so many years, I could see the fruits of that longevity. They had a lot to lose if things went wrong around there since they had not only been invested in for all of these years, but were now investing themselves.
Too many adults have abandoned their posts with teenagers. Teachers, coaches, and youth ministers cannot be the only ones speaking into the lives of a student. We need to be there, choosing to stick with them because it is our choice. There is something to being chosen that speaks value and worth. Let’s choose to stick with our students.
3. Students can care about others than themselves
This is the one that got me. While I love working with students, they are developmentally in one of the most selfish stages of life. By definition, adolescence is about finding yourself. So, much of a teenager’s task is inherently selfish. But, to see a student turn their gaze outwards and understand their responsibility to care for those younger is a thing of beauty. I believe one of the reasons this organization works so well is because the older students feel a responsibility for the younger.
If we expect great things from students, stick with them, and teach them to stick with those coming up behind them, we will start to see leaders emerge from this generation of students. Blessings to you as you work with students or parent a teenager.
Many things can create opportunity. This blog is about 2 separate opportunities. One has been created because of the work we do at Teen Lifeline and the other comes from a friend’s life experience. As the two intersect something cool happens and a new opportunity is created to impact students lives.
Let’s begin with Teen Lifeline’s opportunity. Over the past 5 years our nonprofit has continued to build relationships with schools as we offer our services to teens to help them make better choices. This time one of those relationships translated into an invitation to speak at a local high school. I accepted before I realized it would be a group of 700 high school freshman. Regardless I saw this as a chance to speak on some important topics and help these freshman shape their view on these matters. As I prepared, my wife had a great suggestion. She thought I should invite someone to join me that could speak from personal experience about one of the topics.
I thought about who this would be for a long time before realizing I should invite Kyle (pictured above). Kyle was a student in the youth group when I was a youth minister. I had worked with him some to try to help him create positive coping skills rather than the drug and alcohol use he was choosing. Though things didn’t change immediately I trust that our conversations helped influence his later decision to stop using and turn things around. Unfortunately he experienced all kinds of drugs, prison, and dropped out of high school 3 credits short of graduating.
Thankfully the story does not end there. Kyle chose to start getting help. His help has included church, a 12 step program, and his sponsor. These steps have made it possible to take on the responsibility of getting married, starting a new job and expecting a baby anytime.
This turn around has created Kyle’s opportunity. He accepted my invitation to be interviewed at the high school. As he spoke you could tell the students were really listening. Afterward he stayed around and was swarmed by students asking questions and thanking him for what he shared.
These opportunities come from what Teen Lifeline is intentionally doing to help teens live life better.
Thanks goes to Kyle for turning things around and for being vulnerable enough to share that with an auditorium full of freshmen.
Here’s the truth, we cannot act on these opportunities without your help. Your support of our efforts makes it possible for us to build relationships with schools, students, and other organizations. Right now is the perfect time to do just that. Our 5th annual 5K is coming up this Saturday October 26, 2013. Please take a moment to learn more about our only fundraiser each year at lifelivedbetter.org/tl5k13. You may already have a heart for teens and want to go ahead and donate which you can do at TL5K 2013.
If you are unable to support us financially would you help us spread the word by sharing on your social media choice below?
Before you click away, do you have a story you are willing to share? Comment below, you never know who’s life it may change for the better.
(This post is part of a series from a weekend hosted by The Hills Church of Christ called Renew. You can find it and other posts targeted at making a difference in the world by visiting the linked websites above.)
Things are bad, real bad. We see more of the bad in the world today than at any point in history. With 24 hour news and social media reporting every thing that happens within seconds, it is impossible to get away from the negative. People in poor nations see what it’s like too have to much. American teens think they deserve a diploma, degree, or job.
I have often said I would not want to be a teenager today. School is harder, families are broken, the future is uncertain. Stress is higher today for most of us than it has been in a long time or maybe ever.
Generally the outlook on life is just plain bad.
Or is it??
As we listen to teens in our support groups, we find they are embracing their world. Stressed? Certainly. Confused? Absolutely. And yet they are embracing the world they live in. This embrace contributes to much of the stress and confusion. They are recognizing that life is not fair and there are a lot of injustices in the world. The problem is they don’t know what to do with what they see. They have the energy and momentum to make things right; they simply lack direction much of the time.
This is where Teen Lifeline comes in. Our support groups offer a safe place where teens can be heard. We listen and offer a new perspective. We talk about resources, stress management, goal setting, and positive relationships. Our goal is to offer them resources and support to make their world a better place.
One example of this happened in our teen parents program. I was leading a discussion about parenting skills and the group told me no one had talked to them about parenting skills. Seriously? Honestly, I was not that surprised but it was definitely something that needed to be corrected. Since then we have been focusing on parenting skills to help them parent in ways that will positively shape their kids.
In our support groups, teens often express how unhappy they are with how their parents handle things. This is not new, I felt the same way at times. What they need though is to take steps toward something better. If they don’t, it will be too easy to fall into the same pattern. Teens need to know there are good options and how to move toward them.
Will you consider partnering with us as we try to meet kids and students where they are and use the momentum they bring to help them have a life lived better?