5 Ways to Connect with a Teen

5 Ways to Connect with a Teen

In my Teen Life Support Group last semester, I had a student who seemingly did not want to be there. She refused to talk. She crossed her arms. She kept her head down. After the first week, we talked to her and said that she didn’t have to talk but needed to participate as a member of the group. She reluctantly did the activities, but still never spoke a word.

A few weeks later, another student asked about my family. I explained that my parents live in Alabama, and I don’t see them very often because of the distance. Immediately, my standoffish student spoke. “Wait, you’re from Alabama? Me too.” In that moment, we had created a connection.

Connection. It sounds so easy, right? But how often do we strive to achieve it and come up short? Sometimes, finding a commonality is like finding a needle in a haystack. Some days I wonder if I have anything at all in common with the teens I’m with. Some days I wonder if they even want to connect with me at all.

In their book, The Connected Child, Dr. Karyn Purvis, Dr. David Cross, and Wendy Sunshine walk through a series of connecting principals to help us as parents, teachers, youth ministers, or friends of young people who are struggling and yet seem to reject our help. In order to connect, we have to engage with students. Here are five of their strategies:

 

  1. Behavioral Matching: Reflect your student’s behavior or physical position. This increases their ability to feel safe. It’s less complicated than it seems. When my daughter wants to talk at night, I lay down next her instead of standing over her.  If my smaller child wants to play with cars on the floor, I sit on the floor as well. Find the natural comfort behavior for your teen and match it without even mentioning it.

 

  1. Playful Engagement: Be playful in your conversations. We adults often want to get to the point, address the problem, and fix it. But they often need us to break the ice. We do that by showing that we can have fun. When my teen doesn’t want to do something they deem embarrassing, I do it first. If they are frustrated, say “Whoa? I didn’t know you were the boss!” Let them know they are safe even in disagreements. You can have a deeper conversation once there is more connection.

 

  1. Create Eye ContactWe live in a world where students don’t look at each other. They look at screens. But the eyes are powerful.  Look your students in the eyes and they will know they are cared for. As parents, how often do we yell down the hall or up the stairs. How would things change if we spent more time looking in our teenagers’ eyes?

 

  1. Share Healthy Touch: Give a hug. Pat them on the back. Hold their hand. Play with their hair. If you aren’t sure if it’s ok, ask permission. Students often want to know you care, and you don’t have to use words to show up.

 

  1. Be aware of your tone of voiceAre you loud? Are you frustrated? Are you talking quickly or slowly? Do you even know? You can start and end a conversation just by using your tone. You also can be authoritative without being demeaning or unkind.

 

Connecting through engagement is hard, but as Dr. Karyn Purvis says, “When you connect to the heart of a child, everything is possible.”

My student from Alabama? After she learned we were from the same place, everything shifted. That tiny connection was all it took to help make our group safe for her. She was able to talk through some significant things happening at her home all because of connection.  

A week after group ended, the interventionist stopped me in the hall.  She raved about how this girl was totally different than she was 8 weeks before. What a powerful lesson about the potential power that can be unleashed with just a little connection!

 

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. 

The Road to Self Discovery

The Road to Self Discovery

Some days ago, I sat with my wife after a frustrating series of events unfolded with my kids where I likely handled things poorly as a dad. As anyone who is a parent can attest to, there are times that you don’t quite line up to where you would like, and those times can draw you into reflection. As we sat, she calmly asked me a series of questions that revealed my frustrations were not at all with my kids, but with some other things that were completely out of my control – and I was likely just taking it out on the kids. Like I said, dad fail.

My wife is so good for me because she is willing to sit down after the fact and talk through what happened – kind of like a coach. And when I might get too frustrated or become short with my kids, it is often times because I am not aware of how I am feeling at the moment. Being a parent is hard. But being a parent while also being unaware of my own shortcomings and stressors – well that just makes things unfair, right? When I am blind to my weaknesses and vulnerabilities, I am also blind to how that affects those around me.

So much of the research into those who are healthy, not only physically but emotionally, shows that healthy individuals tend to be self-aware. These are the people who know where they excel, but also where they fail. They “do their work”, so to speak, and take the time to be forthright with themselves about where things stand.

I am at my best when I do my work, and I believe you will be as well. One of the best resources I have found (amongst a multitude of others) is the Enneagram – a personality framework that identifies nine basic personalities and variations within those personalities. For me this has been particularly helpful because my identified type, the Peacemaker (or a “9”) has more difficulty than most at being self-aware. At Teen Life, we have done quite a bit of reflection as a staff with the Enneagram and better understand each other and what makes us work. This tool has been incredibly helpful with my marriage and relationships as well.

It has been a game changer as a parent.

Part of why I am bringing up the Enneagram is that we are starting to record a series of podcasts on the Enneagram and teenagers next week and will begin releasing those in October. This will be a big series for us because we will be sharing a dynamic tool that will not only help you know yourself better as a parent or helper of a teenager, but will also help you better understand your teenager as well.

In the meantime, I’d encourage you to check out a great book on the subject – The Road Back to You by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile that offers a great introduction to the tool as well as ways we can identify our numbers. Also, I’d point you towards Ian and Suzanne’s podcasts that take a deep dive into this great resource as well.

If you want to take a quick survey that will get you on your way, you can click here.

Maybe the Enneagram isn’t for you, but you have found a personality profiling system that has – what system has worked for you? Please share in the comments!

 

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s CEO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
The Mess of Loving Teenagers

The Mess of Loving Teenagers

Loving teenagers isn’t always easy. Some days it is actually really difficult.

I had a tough Support Group this week. I did not walk away with a great feeling of accomplishment or even much hope. The conversations seemed to revolve around gangs, drugs, and baby mamas (yes, multiple). The students were distracted, disengaged, and at times disrespectful.

In situations like this, it would be so easy to walk away and not come back. I am not forced to like these teens. I am under no obligation to see them again.

But we don’t always have the choice to walk away. Many of us have teenagers in our lives that we have to spend time with. They live in our homes, go to our schools, are involved in our youth groups, and play on our sport teams.

 

I don’t have an answer that will make teen relationships easy or simple. (If you know of a trick, please share it!) But I do know a couple of things…

You are the right person.If you are already in the life of a teenager, there is no one more qualified to walk with them.  Teenagers don’t always need new people to come and change their lives. They need the people who are already in their lives to notice them, invest in them, and encourage them. Maybe that means helping them find other resources, but we have to tap into the community that is already surrounding our students. It is a hard job, but it is your job!

The right thing can be messy. If you are looking for the easy, clean thing, you might be looking for the wrong solution! It is right to stick it out in a Support Group that seems to be going wrong. Right is finding glimmers of hope like a girl talking about an attitude change that made her week better. That is small, and it didn’t get her out of trouble, but it is setting her on the right path. We don’t need to fear getting a little messy. I don’t know about you, but my life can be sticky, too. When we are dealing with other people (especially adolescents), it is always going to be messy, but it can also be right and good.

It is the right thing to stay. What difference would we see in teen culture if the people in their lives chose to stay? If that dad didn’t walk out? Or that teacher didn’t give up? Or that friend didn’t kill herself? By this point, I think we can all agree that staying is hard. But the simple the act of staying probably makes the biggest difference. I could completely stop my group after a hard week, but it is so much more powerful when I choose to come back. I might not agree with their choices, I might not like the words they use or the topics they discuss, but I will continue to come back week after week. Every time you stay, come back, and reengage, you are sending the message that you care and that they matter.

 

Teenagers need you. They need a community who will call them to a higher standard but stick around when they fall a little short. You are probably already doing this in your own context, but this is where Teen Life Support Groups can step onto a school campus and make a difference for a group of teens. For 8 weeks, we climb into the mess and keep coming back. Our volunteers ask the hard questions and encourage the small changes that make a big difference. We would love for you to step into the mess with us.

We are wrapping up our Spring Fundraiser this week, but you can still give to help us provide groups to students who need support, consistency and a little extra encouragement. You can give here. Help us equip students and let us empower you to stay in the hard times!

Karlie Duke was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is our Marketing & Development Director. She is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories.