All I Want For Christmas Is…Groups!

All I Want For Christmas Is…Groups!

One of my favorite parts of my job is getting to lead a Support Group each week. This year, I spent my Wednesday mornings with 6 high school students who laughed, questioned, shared, and began to trust each other by the end of our time together.

It was awesome.

But the best part came during our last meeting when the students had a chance to share encouragement with each other through symbols. Each group member passed their sheets around and added symbols to describe each person. Some of these symbols included things like: strong, easy to talk to, brave, calm, keep a secret, safe with, smart, and spend the day with. It was so encouraging to get your own sheet back and see what the group thought of you.

While I had fun looking at my own sheet, I loved hearing what symbols excited my teen friends. One boy was so excited because several people said they would like to “spend the day with” him. To give some context to this teenage boy, he consistently kept the group on our toes. He was routinely 10 minutes late to group, told the most outrageous stories, and always managed to sprinkle several curse words over the time we spent together.

Overall, he was a mess. But on this day, with these symbols, he was floored.

He smiled a huge smile and declared that he didn’t want group to end so we could continue hanging out each week.

As a group leader, this was a huge win! I was able to watch a student who had little confidence but always turned group into a joke come alive. After hearing what the other groups members had to say were our strengths, we then talked about our own inner strengths and how we can use them to help others. This same boy who rarely had a serious moment shared that he felt his strength was “persistence.” He talked about the ways he had overcome hard times but was still here and moving forward.

That is what we want to help all teenagers see as they go through Teen Life Support Groups. They have strengths. They have the ability to move forward, even when life is hard and unfair. They have people who are in their corner – peers and adults who are cheering them on.

Can you imagine going through High School with little confidence, support, or hope? How hard are those teenage years even in the best circumstances?

But we can help. We can give support, encouragement, hope, and a place to be safe and heard. We can give teenagers the gift of Support Groups! I am passionate about groups because I see the impact they have each week. And there is still time for you to join Teen Life and equip teenagers this holiday season!

You can equip, encourage, and empower students by giving to Teen Life!

May more students receive hope and support in 2019. May every school who needs Support Groups have access in the near future. May we all look for ways to help schools and students this season and the coming year!

If you want to be a part of a student’s story, you can give and sponsor a Support Group or teenager here.

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.
10 Years of Thankfulness

10 Years of Thankfulness

Hopefully you aren’t tired of celebrating 10 years of Teen Life, because we would not be celebrating if it wasn’t for YOU.

This year, we are thankful for many things, but as we reflect on Thanksgiving Day, we can’t help but show our appreciation to those who have been part of Teen Life for the last 10 years, and especially to those who have impacted the life of a teenager.

So here we go.

Thank you to our staff and board who have poured time, dreams, and vision into Teen Life. Thank you for having a passion and love for teenagers – life lived better started with you. Each idea and encouragement has had a direct impact on the lives of teenagers!

Thank you to our incredible volunteers. You are the ones who make our Support Groups come to life each and every week. You take time out of your busy day to play with play doh, color with crayons, and talk about meaningful topics like relationships, stress, and courage. You are empowering teens, whether you ever get thanked by the students themselves or not.

Thank you to the donors and supporters of Teen Life. Your belief in Teen Life and the future of teenagers cannot be overlooked! You have donated money, resources, expertise, food, baby items, time and so much more. You may not always get to see the faces of the teenagers who are part of Teen Life Support Groups, but you are the reason schools can have free groups on their campus.

Thank you to the counselors and school staff who advocate for students each week. We are honored that we get to partner with you to provide resources to teenagers. You are the voices they trust and the people they look to long after the Teen Life groups end. Thank you for opening your campus and trusting us with your students. Your role and commitment to teens in invaluable!

Thank you to all of the students who choose to be a part of Teen Life Support Groups. You challenge us, make us laugh, make us think, and always keep us on our toes. Thank you for your honesty, candidness, and trust. You are the reason we do this – the reason we recruit, volunteer, create curriculum, and show up every week.

I could go on and on – but I am sure it would turn into one of those Oscar speeches that is way too long and still forgets someone important! We could never express our thankfulness for the last 10 years adequately, but Teen Life’s mission, vision, and growth is because of you.

You are our reason for the season. So humbly, we thank you.

We also encourage you to reach out to who you are thankful for today! Maybe it is a teen in your life or a family member. Maybe you want to reach out to a teacher, youth minister, counselor, or adult who was instrumental in your teen years. Thank those you love, those you just met, or the person who encourages you to keep going. Let’s not let this holiday or season pass without thanking those around us.

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.
The Importance of Asking…Twice.

The Importance of Asking…Twice.

This post was written by one of our facilitators, Sarah Brooks. Sarah is a blogger, mom of 3 boys and social media expert! She has spoken across the country at various groups, churches, and schools about social media (the good, the bad, and the confusing), most of which stemmed from a post she wrote called Parents: A Word About Instagram. Sarah currently facilitates a High School Support Group in Fort Worth ISD.

———

I had a mild panic attack the morning I was set to lead my first Teen Life group. When I started looking over lesson one, I was shocked by how personal the discussion questions were. There was no building rapport, no easing in to sensitive topics with these people. No – right out of the gate, they expect me to walk into a group of teenagers I’ve never seen before, teenagers who are presumably hurting and/or experiencing significant life crisis, and ask questions like,

“On a scale from 1-10, how do you feel about yourself?”

and

“How much do you feel others care about you?”

For real??

I’m a wealthy suburban housewife facilitating a group in one of the lowest performing, lowest income high schools in our area. I knew these teens would be skeptical of me before I even said a word, but after reading lesson one I was afraid they’d actually be mad at such a blatant invasion of privacy.

None of it made sense….except that it worked. All the questions. None unanswered.

How? How is that possible?

I think the answer is in something I heard from a different group of teenagers a few weeks ago.

———

During a small group discussion at a church student conference last month, a group of high schoolers and I were talking about the topic of friendship. What it looks like, the difference between online connection and in-person community, etc.

I asked them what traits they looked for in a friend.

“Authenticity.” one said. “No judgment.” said another.

Then one girl said, “I want a friend who will ask me how I’m doing….twice. Once for the fake answer, then again for the real answer. I want a friend who will wait and press for the real answer.”

(*pause to slow clap for that answer*)

I knew exactlywhat she was talking about, because over the past several months I’ve been conducting a social experiment I find hysterical that my husband is ever-so-slightly embarrassed by.

It goes like this: we’re eating a restaurant and the waiter comes up and asks one of a few standard questions, either “How are you tonight?” or “How was your food?”

Something along those lines.

My husband answers “Great!” at the same time I answer a loud “MEHHHH” with a noncommittal shrug. Sometimes if I’m feeling extra obnoxious, I say, “Not great!”

I’ve done this countless times in countless restaurants with countless waitstaff and not a single personhas a) heard me or b) asked a follow up question.

Nobody hears me because nobody is actually listening.

I mean, it’s dinner at a restaurant. Who cares, right? I don’t need to be best friends with Olive Garden James.

But I’m beginning to realize we do this a lot in regular life, too.

We ask all the right questions – because we’re interested and polite, of course – but we don’t actually listen for the answers.

How many times have you had an entire conversation with someone in which you didn’t hear a word they said?

You say, “Hey! How are you?” and as soon as the person starts answering your mind bounces to your work inbox and how you need to pick up the dry cleaning before they close and how your kid has that weird science project with the apples and – oh! he’s finished talking I should ask another question…

We live in a culture with really long to do lists and really cheap communication. We get so busy we forget to actually stop and listen.

———

And this exactly why my Teen Life groups work. This is why those first students didn’t storm out on day one.

The curriculum we use provides practical, helpful tools for teenagers about how to live life better. It’s incredible.

But more than that, these students know that in a world stuffed so full of “connections” we’ve somehow disconnected ourselves from real conversation, they have a place once a week where they can come and be heard.

Even better, they’re heard by an adult who isn’t paid to talk to them, who didn’t give birth to them, and who apparently has no better hobby than to drive across town every Thursday to listen to what they have to say, simply because she – and the rest of the Teen Life team – believes in them.

We stop and we listen. (Curiously. We listen curiously.)

In today’s society, with today’s teens, that can make all the difference in the world.

Bad Reputation

Bad Reputation

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the final concert of Taylor Swift’s Reputation Tour. Now this is not a post about Taylor Swift herself, but her newest album tackles an interesting topic that teenagers and young adults are identifying with everywhere – reputation. Whether for good or for bad, your reputation impacts how others look at you, treat you, speak to you, or think about you.

In the world we live in today, reputation follows teens everywhere. It is on social media, and it keeps them up at night through texts and pictures. Can you imagine? Used to, in order to control your reputation, you just had to get to people with your version of the story before anyone else. Now, anyone can write the narrative for you – through social media posts or a text, or an unfortunate picture or video. It is enough to give you nightmares!

So what is your teen’s reputation?

Do you know? Have you asked? Do they feel like they are in control of their story?

To go back to Taylor Swift…At her concert, she stopped in the middle to talk about reputation – hers and the crowd’s. She said the following:

“I learned a really important lesson that I’ve been telling you from the stage for about 10 years, but I never had to learn it so harshly myself and that lesson has to do with how much you value your reputation. And I think that the lesson is that you shouldn’t care so much if you feel misunderstood by a lot of people who don’t know you, as long as you feel understood by the people who do know you. The people who will show up for you. With people who see you as a human being.”

And the crowd went absolutely WILD. Why? Because they identified with it. Everyone in that audience could think of a time when they were misunderstood. When someone believed a lie or reputation instead of taking the time to ask the person first.

Reputation is important. And it is something that needs to be talked about in our homes, church buildings, and schools. I urge you to start this conversation with a teen you know. Maybe these questions can be a good starting point:

  • What do your friends, teachers, and coaches think about you? What would you say your reputation is?
  • How can you control your reputation?
  • What could you do if you felt misunderstood or that your reputation didn’t reflect who you really were?
  • Do you feel like you can trust the people around you to protect your reputation? How could friends or peers ruin your reputation?
  • How does social media affect people’s reputation?
  • Do you have any friends who have been negatively affected by their reputation?
  • Who has the best reputation that you know? How do you think they protect their reputation?

 

As I listened to tens of thousands of girls scream the lyrics of Taylor Swift’s newest album, I knew she had hit a cord with our culture. Lyrics like: “They’re burning all the witches even if you aren’t one. So light me up.” or “Reputation precedes me, they told you I’m crazy. I swear I don’t love the drama, it loves me.”

While I am glad teenagers have different outlets to express their pain and frustration, let’s make sure they are hearing our voices on the issue of reputation. Please don’t let Taylor Swift be the only person they can turn to!

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.
The Place Where No-One is Turned Away

The Place Where No-One is Turned Away

Working for Teen Life the past seven years has afforded me the opportunity to walk the halls of many schools across our area. Every campus has a look and feel – even a smell! Some come equipped with the latest technology and new carpet while others seem to barely keep the lights on. These campuses are the epicenter of everything – education, culture, social life, development, relationships – all of it. Think about it – in our ever-fracturing society where everything is done online, the public school is the one place where ideas are exchanged and problems are solved – face to face.

What used to be done in houses of worship and other public spaces can really only be found in public schools. And the reason for this is why I am endlessly fascinated with public schools especially – there is no requirement for entry. Public schools have no financial, educational, socio-ethnic, or religious requirement for entry. Simply put – if you live within a certain boundary of a public school – you can go and learn!

To me it is kind of like our national park system. A long time ago, our nation’s leaders decided to reserve wide swaths of land, preventing anyone from exploiting or taking advantage of its natural resources. This would be a public space for all to enjoy nature without barriers to entry (save a daily fee, I guess).

You get to see nature in it’s most preserved state and know that you won’t see a shopping strip or oil rig. It will never be exploited for profit, and nature can just be enjoyed – by everyone.

Public schools in this way have to take everyone who passes through their doors. They have to accommodate all levels of learning and manage classrooms that are ever diversifying. Walking through the hallways and watching how the women and men work with their students is really a beautiful thing to watch.

For many students, the public school might be the only safe place they experience. For some, it is a shelter from abuse. For others, it represents a hot meal and badly needed resources. For others, access to compassionate adults who can advocate on their behalf.

This is a time of year where we shift back to the ebb and flow of the school day and calendar. Even those who do not have kids in school feel the effects of this time of year. We at Teen Life are so excited to start another year helping students on public school campuses across our area, and nationwide! Within the next few weeks across our nation, students head back to the classroom and our educators get back to work. Let us be looking for ways to support those who serve any and every student who come their way. It is a calling unlike any other.

Pray for our educators. Check in with them. Ask what they need. Provide it if you can. Support them. Advocate on their behalf.

School is back! Let’s lean into our local schools and make this year the best one possible!

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