5 Conversations to Have As School Starts

5 Conversations to Have As School Starts

I originally wrote this post two years ago with 3 conversation starters, but I want to revisit and add a couple of conversations that I believe will be helpful. So buckle up, school is here!

 


 

It is that back-to-school time of the year again!

I can hear the cheers and tears from the Teen Life office. Whether you are looking forward to getting back to a routine, wondering how your baby has grown into a high school senior, or are trying to figure out how your youth ministry is going to hold up against football season – you have a role to play in this upcoming school year!

Before teenagers start back at their middle or high schools, or the graduates leave home to start their college adventures, take time to have bold, encouraging conversations! You have an opportunity to help students set goals and think about where they want to be at the end of this 2018-2019 school year.

By having healthy conversations (check out this blog post), this school year can get off to a great start from the very first day! Here are some goals to help teenagers think about as they start school:

 

Grades

Grades are important. They help you graduate high school and get scholarships for college. They are a reflection of what you have learned and how hard you have worked at a particular subject.

However, grades don’t define your student or their worth. Students will put pressure on themselves about what kind of grades they should be making before you say a word. Instead of starting out the school year with a lecture about responsibility, finishing homework before video games, or the consequences for poor test grades, ask your student these questions:

  • What do you want your grades to look like at the end of this school year?
  • If you improved your grades and school work from last year, what would that look like?
  • How can I help you succeed this school year?

If you allow them to set their own goals, they will take more ownership in their school work. Instead of working toward your expectation, they will be stepping up to the standards they set for themselves – what better lesson could you teach a teenager? Help them set realistic goals and hold them accountable throughout the year with {friendly} reminders. Don’t expect your B student to make a 4.0 this school year, but encourage them to improve and continue to grow!

 

Friends

As you know, friends and peers have a huge influence during teenage years. They can impact grades, decisions, activities and attitude. While they are old enough to choose their own friends, as the adult, it is okay for you guide them in these choices. When it comes to friendships they have at school, start a conversation by asking these questions:

  • What relationship last year provided the most encouragement?
  • How do your friendships impact your performance at school or in extracurriculars?
  • Are their any relationships that provided drama or stress? What can you do to make that relationship healthier?

They probably aren’t going to react well if you ban them from hanging out with their best friend. But maybe you can open up the door for healthy conversation if you ask them to share first. Teenagers are smarter than we often give them credit for! If they are in an unhealthy relationship, let them talk through what that looks like and what they could do to either get rid of the friendship or set up healthier boundaries.

 

Extracurriculars 

It seems like today’s teenagers are busier than ever. Not only are they expected to go to school during the week and church on the weekends, but they also have to be involved in multiple extracurriculars, join school clubs and complete crazy amounts of service hours.

That is what colleges expect, right?

Extracurriculars are good and character building, but it is important for students to set goals not only on how to better themselves through these activities, but also how to find margin and rest in the midst of their busy schedules. Especially if you are talking to a teenager who is involved in multiple sports, activities or volunteer opportunities, encourage them to set healthy goals by asking these questions:

  • How many extracurriculars do you think you’ll have time for with school and other responsibilities?
  • How can you improve and use these experiences to help you in the future?
  • What can you do to make time for rest, friends and fun?

Have them prioritize their activities – there may be some new opportunities that arise this year, but if it passes what they can handle, it is not worth taking it on. They are teenagers, but they are still allowed to have fun! Please don’t allow your teenager to live like an adult. Help them take advantage of the freedom and fun that comes with adolescence. If they feel like they need to give up an activity to better balance their time, help them make the decision that is best for them (even if it means giving up that sport you love).

 

Physical, Mental, & Spiritual Health

Coming off the last conversation, it is so important for teenagers to take care of themselves! While culture is talking more about mental health, we cannot ignore it in our homes, churches or schools!

Please make sure you are having these conversations with your teen. Are they aware of signs of depression or suicide in themselves or friends? Are they motivated to improve in any of these areas? This conversation could be touchy or emotional, and is really three conversations, but don’t shy away from it! Start with these questions:

  • Do you feel like you have someone you can talk to about health? Especially mental and spiritual health? Who is that person?
  • What would you do if a friend came to you with a health concern?
  • What could you do this school year to improve in each of these areas? How could we help you accomplish your goals?

Be willing to ask your teen about the current state of their physical, mental, and spiritual health. Do they want to change anything? How can you help? Can you get them a gym membership or cook healthier meals? Could you help them seek the guidance of a counselor? Does one of their friends need a trusted adult to talk to? Can you start a family Bible Study? Consider what they need for themselves and from you.

 

Boundaries

Teenagers are trying to find identity and values at this phase of life. As the adults in their lives, it is our job to guide and teach while also giving them a safe space to try and sometimes fail. Teens won’t be perfect – I wasn’t at that age and definitely still make plenty of mistakes! However, we can help them set some boundaries in place to protect and direct as they gain the confidence and understand they need to truly succeed.

Maybe boundaries look like a curfew, or a time restraint on social media or Netflix. Maybe they want to limit how often they hang out with a certain friend or which event they want to avoid. Let them start the conversation and try not to jump in at the beginning with what you think is best. Here are a few questions to get this final conversation started:

  • What personal boundaries would help you succeed this school year?
  • How likely are you to say, “No!” when someone crosses your boundaries?
  • How do you think the boundaries we have set could be helpful? Are their any boundaries you have concerns about?

The beginning of school is a great time to talk about boundaries and expectations for the school year. Some rules will change over the years, and some will stay consistent. Some teenagers will even have intelligent boundaries that they want to set for themselves – give them that opportunity!

 


 

You have the power and the opportunity to help teenagers see their future and set goals to reach it. Ask good questions, listen with empathy and work together to set realistic goals that will allow them to not only enjoy but also take advantage of their teenage years. These are great conversations to have at the beginning of school, but we also encourage you to revisit these topics – ask how they are doing with their goals and if anything has changed. This is just a starting place!!

Are you willing to have these conversations? Share what goals the teenagers you talk to set! How will you help hold them accountable?

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.
Going Beyond “Good Job”: How to Praise Teens

Going Beyond “Good Job”: How to Praise Teens

Have you ever experienced a scenario like this:

You’re talking to a teen and they tell you about a situation where they had to make a choice. A friend was pressuring them to do something wrong, something they have always done. In the past, this teen would have chosen to go along with their friend, to give in to the pressure to do something they know is wrong. This time though, they chose to do the right thing. They tell you that they ignored their friend all weekend and chose to stay home. The teen chose to not participate in the wrong-doing.

You say something like, “That was a great choice!” The teen looks at you, shrugs off your comment and moves on.

This teen just revealed a life changing moment for them and they get a “great job”. We think we just praised them for doing the right thing when in reality, a moment was missed to truly dig deep and offer meaningful praise to a teen who is struggling. The teen doesn’t feel heard or like they made the right choice. They feel like a child that got a pat on the back.

This scene is played out often, and I have come to learn that these are moments where a lot of us fail. It is sometimes too easy to give a standard response, to simply say “great job” with a pat on the back.  While this may feel good to say, it doesn’t necessarily hold any weight when it comes to developing a trusting relationship. These placating statements we are guilty of using in everyday life are what causes the eye-rolls, the shrug offs, and can shut down further communication because they are meaningless.

True praise for teens, especially those who are in tough situations, requires more heart. The word ‘praise’ actually comes from Middle English meaning “attach value to”. If praise is meant to attach value to, then we need to work on our approach to praising. We need to dig deeper into using meaningful praise in order to ensure that our teens know they have value. This means using words to ensure that teens feel heard, that they know they did the right thing, and the qualities they possess to continue doing the right thing.

In the scenario above, I have experienced the difference that occurs when I have used this deeper approach to praise. I point out how they made a tough decision to move beyond what they have always done. I make my case by detailing the qualities they exhibited such as being responsible, setting an example, and made a brave choice. The responses from teens when they are given this praise is more positive. They might not have anything to say, they may even respond shyly if they have never experienced someone going beyond “good job” in their lives but you will see the change. There is a light that shines when someone feels valued.

For teens that rarely or never experience positive interactions with adults, changing our tune on praise helps them see that they have worth. Attaching value to their actions changes the tone of conversations and encourages teens to continue to make positive choices. They learn that they have value that is seen by someone in their lives who wants better for them. I challenge each of you to move beyond “good job” and search for ways to attach value to the teens in your life.

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.
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.
Disconnected in an Overly Connected World

Disconnected in an Overly Connected World

The distractions in our lives are overwhelming. We are constantly attempting to keep up with the whole world and our own lives, which often leads to us feeling like failures. It is IMPOSSIBLE to stay connected IRL (in real life) when we are connected online 24/7. We have phones, tablets, computers, gaming systems, all loaded down with apps to keep us from having to interact with an actual person. The lack of connections we feel IRL often leads to feelings of depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
 

There are three major areas that have been connected to why people have become disconnected IRL:

  1. Social Media lies to us. Constantly. Friends post pictures of achievements. Photoshopped Instagrams make us feel ugly. Snapchats of being happy with a significant other can make us feel lonely. Picture perfect families and homes that are posted make us feel lesser than. Teens and adults alike fall into the trap of the lies that we all share online. Teens are constantly racing to stay popular online with the most likes, re-Tweets, shares, followers, and it is IMPOSSIBLE to keep up with the ever-changing status quo of the online world. Attempting to keep up with social media lies can make teens feel depressed or withdrawn from the people who support them.
  2.  

  3. Information overload. Having a constant stream of information easily accessed from literally the entire world is unhealthy and is often depressing. I personally have quit following news on my social media accounts because it would ruin my day constantly seeing the heart breaking stories of death, bombs, natural disasters, etc. Teens are not only dealing with their daily interactions, but the lies of social media, and the often negative news. Attempting to process information that is a) unnecessary to our everyday lives and b) may or may not be accurate information is overwhelming, which can lead to feelings of depression or anxiety. We all need to take a break from the negative overload of information forced fed to us on our social media accounts.
  4.  

  5. Followers Friends. Researchers have found that there is a negative emotional connection between how many online friends we have versus our real life happiness. What does that mean? It means that when a person becomes more obsessed with how many friends they have online, the less happy they are in real life, especially for teens and young adults. This complete obsession with social media followers leads to real life relationships being lost by the wayside because teens lose the ability to communicate in real life. Not being able to communicate about emotions without emojis is a serious issue that should be addressed and is why educating teens on communication is a core tenet of Teen Life.

 
I have found the best way to combat the depression, anxiety, and loneliness that comes from social media is to disconnect for at least one hour a day. This can be scary, especially for teens who are falling for the lies, being overloaded, and are concerned about followers. Disconnecting from all electronics and all social media for an hour a day can lead to us finding new ways of connecting in real life, recharging our brains to be better able of seeing through the lies, and can help improve our moods.

 

If you want to hear more about this subject, check out this eight minute video that truly highlights what is going on when we have an obsession with our social media.

Shelbie Fowler is currently an intern for Teen Life while completing her Master’s in Family Studies. She is passionate about being an advocate for family life education in order to grow families stronger.