by Beth Nichols | Mar 15, 2018 | Mental Health, Parenting, Support Groups
You are running errands at Target. You see a mom with her pre-teen. The girl mentions that she is hungry, and her mom explains that they are almost done at the store and will get some lunch once they get home. As you stand in the check-out line, you see her eyeing the candy. She asks for some. Again. Mom says, “No.” As you watch, you see the child has opted to steal the candy from the store as opposed to waiting until they get home.
Pause for a minute. How would you handle that situation? What if you were the parent? If you are like most parents I know, you proceed to lecture your child on stealing and add a few lines about how you told her she could eat at home. You drag her back into the store, purchase the candy, make said child apologize, and then take her home to do chores and earn the money back you just spent. Or you repossess her allowance money. You confiscate the candy and promise more consequences.
Now, think of the most challenging youth you know. It may be a student from your classroom at school. Maybe a teen from your church. It may be a youth who is involved with the legal system. It may be your friend’s child. It may be your own child. How do you really view their challenging behaviors? As defiance? As a lost cause?
Each day as parents, school staff, and youth workers, we confront behavior. Sometimes it’s minor disrespect. Sometimes it’s fighting in a hallway where someone is physically hurt.
Is a child or youth’s inappropriate behavior intentional defiance or is it a survival skill?
Even asking that question probably raises a few eyebrows. Most of us have the same gut response. I told (fill in a name) not to do that. They did it anyway. They have no respect for me and need to have (fill in a consequence). But is that really the full story? For our children, we know their story and their history. For other youth – students we see twice a week at a sports activity or church, students in our support groups – we usually only know part of their story. It is much harder to see their needs.
In the words of Dr. David Cross, “Having compassion and understanding helps us to see the need. Seeing the need is changing your frame of reference so you realize that these aberrant behaviors are survival strategies rather than willful disobedience. If you look at your child’s behavior through the lens of his history, his actions make perfect sense. We don’t know all of the potential hurt so we can’t always understand what it takes to survive. How we view behavior changes everything.”
Is the behavior functional? No, most likely not. However, it isn’t fruitful to remove a child’s survival strategy, no matter how negative, without giving them a new strategy. Demanding a child stop stealing food without providing for the very real fear that they will not have food is not going to be successful. Demanding that a child use their words and not fists when they have had to fight to protect themselves or a family member will not change the behavior, without first providing another strategy.
A few questions to consider:
Who is the child or youth in your world that makes you feel like you are spinning your wheels?
How can you change how YOU see their behavior? Can you see their needs not just their actions?
What tools can you provide to the youth in your life in order to increase their success?
**The survival vs. willful disobedience concept was introduce to our team while attending a training on Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI.) More information on TBRI can be found here.
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.
by Karlie Duke | Feb 17, 2018 | Mental Health, Parenting, Resources, Support Groups
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.
by Ricky Lewis | Feb 11, 2016 | Parenting
I have worked with teenagers now for over a decade. In that time, there have been significant changes in environment, social interaction, and educational expectations, but one thing has remained. Teenagers generally don’t feel they can talk to their parents.
I’m coming from a place where I sit in groups with teenagers who are strangers to me and within 30 minutes of talking to them can get them to share who the most important person in their life is and why. I’m writing this not as the parent of a teen but as someone who works with teens, so this is also for any youth worker that wants their conversation to get better. I’m hopeful that this helps you, and I’m also hopeful it helps me as I start to create an environment for conversation with my elementary school kids that will carry into their teen years – because we all know if I wait, it’ll only get harder.
In fact, today I was sitting in a group that has been meeting sporadically for about 12 weeks. One of the students brought up the difficulty she is having talking to her dad. There are lots of things involved with this situation, but I believe if her dad read these tips, he could learn so much more about his own daughter.
With that in mind here are the tips I have found to be helpful, and I hope you can apply to your relationship with your teen as well.
As a parent, it is difficult not to fill the silence. Resist this urge. In our training for group facilitators, we teach that counting to at least 10 (counting to 30 is better) when silence begins can help us wait long enough before assuming the other person is done talking. With kids, they are often just processing out loud, something most adults have decided needs to be internally. For them, it is normal to say out loud what they are thinking because they are trying it out. Let them. The fact is, they will become uncomfortable too and will likely say something else to fill the silence.
Deciding at the beginning of a conversation this is about them, puts you in a position of listening rather then looking for what is wrong and correcting, or even worse, that there is a problem when none actually exists. Listen just to hear, listen to learn, listen to be able to repeat back. Make an intentional decision to not be thinking about how to answer or how to tell them what they should be thinking or doing instead. There is a stage of life for that, but it should mainly apply to kids under 9 years old.
Ask great questions.
You can decide to do the others, but asking good questions is a skill – asking questions that invite more information, that don’t put them on the defensive and that show empathy are key and vital to getting the most out of your teen. Here are some suggestions to get you thinking:
- What bothered you about feeling that way?
- Have you ever thought that before?
- What do you think will happen if you do that?
- How do you think this might affect your future (or those around you)?
These are just some ideas to get you thinking, but the point here is to ask open-ended, inviting questions without making assumptions or projecting your bias onto the student you are working with.
Don’t correct unless safety is a concern.
This is so hard because we as parents tend to think that this is our full time job, or maybe that’s just me. It is easy to feel that if we don’t correct or advise in a situation with a kid, we are depriving them of a learning opportunity or wasting a teachable moment. What if the teachable moment happened without us saying anything? As I mentioned above, at this age, kids are trying things out. Allowing this in a safe way actually helps them learn better.
Here’s how I would suggest using this…
Simply decide to allow a whole conversation to happen without correcting, unless it is something dangerous. It will be hard, but do it. Decide to do this on a regular basis, but you have to realize how often that makes sense – once a week, twice a month, 5 days a week. Whatever it is, allow your conversation to be driven by your child or the teen you’re working with without any advice or correcting on your part (don’t worry too much, the odds of having the same conversation again are good). The value you will gain by doing this will open doors you never knew existed as they feel more comfortable sharing because they won’t feel so judged.
Create a safe environment.
One of the best things I have ever heard was a story about a father who told his kids that the old truck sitting out by the barn that didn’t run was a “safe zone.” It was the one place they could have conversations and tell him anything without any punishment. Consequences sometimes are unavoidable but he committed to no punishment. They knew that anytime they needed to tell something they feared they would be grounded for or worse, their cell phone would get taken away, they could tell him in that old truck.
You can do this too. Declare a safe zone in or around your house. At our house, right now, it is simply that my kids can tell me, “I need to tell you something but I don’t want to get in trouble for it.” I have given them permission to share anything because I would rather be in the loop than be seen as the enemy when it comes to decisions that affect character and life lessons my kids experience.
Reassure them about everything.
This is an extension of the listening tip. If you really are listening, you will hear opportunities to come back to and reassure them that you are there for them. A simple recognition of their interest or a question about a relationship they told you about can help them know that you truly care. This isn’t about you, so you can’t measure this based on how many times you think is enough. You have to keep reassuring until they tell you to stop or until that season has passed and it is no longer an issue.
If you work with teens, knowing how to get more out of conversations is vital to their success. Maybe you have some better ideas. Take a minute to share them below. We love hearing from you and learning together.
Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 4, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.