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.
5 Christmas Movie Lessons for Teens

5 Christmas Movie Lessons for Teens

I may have a Christmas movie problem…I love them all! The classics, the musicals, the cartoons, the cheesy ones, the funny ones, the Hallmark ones and everything in between. If it deals with Santa or snow, count me in! To some, these movies may feel silly, boring, or annoying. But they would be wrong, and I am about to prove to you why you (and your teenagers) need Christmas movies in your life.

Most follow the “Christmas Movie Formula” which usually includes a problem at the beginning, a love interest being introduced, a conflict that causes everything to derail before the happily ever after. I’ll admit, many Christmas movies are predictable, but I dare you to find a genre of movies that includes more hope, joy, or inspiration.

Plus the Christmas music. And the snow. Come on!! How could you not love these movies?!

Christmas movies have lessons that apply to life in general, but these lessons specifically apply to teenagers. If the students in our Support Groups grasped these lessons, I truly believe their lives would look completely different.

So here we go…below are 5 lessons that we can learn from the greatest movies of all time. (Please note that there are spoilers. If you have not seen any of these movies, stop what you are doing, go borrow it from your friend, and have a movie night.)

Everyone needs a place to belong. (Elf)

In this hilarious and heartwarming story about Buddy the Elf’s journey to find his family, it is easy to see the importance of belonging. Despite the silliness and sugar obsession, Buddy is desperately seeking a place to belong. In this movie, there is a transformation that takes place in the life of Buddy and all those around him when he becomes his best self under the love and care of a family.

Teenagers are the same way. They desperately want a place to belong and feel safe. They want to be accepted for themselves. Please do not overlook this! We can encourage teens, give them a place to belong, surround them with people who will invest in their lives, and find situations for them to excel. Teens look to peers, but mostly they are going to look to you for belonging that lasts.

 

The small things make a big difference. (It’s a Wonderful Life)

This movie is the definition of a holiday classic. It tells the story of George Bailey and his life that is successful not because of the big things, but because of the small things that have added up over a lifetime. After wondering if his life was worth living, the movie ends with the most beautiful picture of people from all stages of life – people who benefitted from the small things.

Teenagers need to understand that the small things they do matter. Showing up at school, being kind, respecting parents and teachers, serving others, being honest – these small things add up over time and can change lives. Let us encourage the small things, and not just the big accomplishments. Look for ways to praise and recognize the everyday successes.

 

Using your gifts & talents is key to success. (Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer)

Who doesn’t love these animated Christmas movies?! Rudolf and Hermy the elf decide to run away together to escape the judgement and shame their differences bring. While others have made them believe that their differences make them wrong and weird, they eventually realize that their skills and talents make them uniquely qualified to help in ways others cannot – even saving Christmas!

How many times do teenagers feel this way? They think that they are different and failing because they do not have the right opportunities to actually use the things they are good at. Helping teenagers find their passion and talents is crucial to them finding success. They are going to fail in areas where they feel incompetent. Instead, encourage their skills, point out their gifts, and help teens find opportunities to utilize them.

 

Progress is important, no matter how small. (How the Grinch Stole Christmas)

The Grinch is a classic Christmas redemption story. We start with a grouchy, Christmas-hating, exiled character and watch him transform into a lovable Grinch with a heart that is too big and cheeks that are warm. The catch is that he made small changes throughout the entire story, but Cindy Lou Who was the only one who noticed.

So many times, teenagers stop making progress because they don’t feel like their small changes are being recognized or making a difference. They are so wrong, though! When they pull their grade up 3 points, get an extra hour of sleep, offer to help with a chore without being asked add up over time and make a major impact. Progress and change, no matter how small should be celebrated.

 

 

A little hope and a lot of community go a long way. (White Christmas)

This is my very favorite Christmas movie, no contest. And I cry at the end every single time during “The Old Man” scene where 151st division comes together to honor General Waverly. After the General is rejected by the army and is only left with his struggling inn, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis decide to bring his community together to help out. Surrounded by loved ones and with the hope of snow and more profitable days, the General’s attitude completely transforms.

Teenagers need community and hope. This is the number one thing that we find in our Support Groups. When they find a place to belong and see hope that their future can be different, they will change their attitude and actions. When teens are struggling, hope is the first thing we should look to offer!

 

What do you think of these Christmas movie lessons? Do you have other favorite Christmas movies that we can learn from? We would love to hear from you!

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.
Great Holiday Expectations

Great Holiday Expectations

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – or at least it’s supposed to be. Trees are decorated, lights are strung, stockings are hung, lists are made, and parties are planned. Emotions can skyrocket to the highest highs and then crash all in one week.

Last year for Christmas, my 6-year old provided me her Christmas list. At the top was an iPhone. I initially just laughed it off, but as the season progressed, the iPhone quickly became the only thing on her list. So, about 2 ½ weeks before Christmas, I put on my Grinch face and told her that she wasn’t getting an iPhone for Christmas. She laughed and told me, “It’s okay.” I was shocked. She had been talking about it non-stop for weeks. Noticing my surprise, she added, “I asked Papa for an iPhone, and Papa always gets me what I ask for.”

Oh, expectations.

It’s a season full of expectations.

Expectations of ourselves. Expectations of others. Expectations in the form of gifts and Christmas lists. Expectations about family interactions. Expectations about memories to be made and thank-you’s to be given and received. Expectations about traditions.

Expectations can be overwhelming for children, youth, and adults alike during the Holidays. Often, they present themselves in the form of deregulated, unusual, or frustrating behaviors in our young people. Older children and youth often aren’t able to immediately convey how these expectations impact them, but if you take a step back then you can see.

You can see it in the teen who struggles with depression this time of year. Or the youth whose behavior spirals downward as they struggle to manage the anticipation of Christmas approaching. You see it in the young adult striving toward perfection this season in order to balance the pressures of extended family being around. Or in the child who struggles with the memories of happy Christmases with a person whose loss of relationship is still fresh. You can see it in the teen mom who is trying to balance her own wants with the desires of her child and for her child.

In addition to expectations we place on ourselves or have placed on us, there are all these other expectations around, often propelled through TV and social media. My holiday season doesn’t actually look like the commercials. Nor does it look like Instagram. There isn’t snow falling outside (thanks, Texas) as we all sit and laugh by the fireplace. There isn’t a long table filled with extended family members who are all using their manners and talking about non-controversial topics. There will be no new Lexus. My kids and their cousins aren’t wearing matching, Christmas coordinated outfits as they play kindly together with their new toys.

There’s an old proverb that says, “Expectations are just premeditated resentments.” At first, I wasn’t sure if I agreed. But the more I reflected on it, the more I realized how true it is, in normal everyday life, but especially during the holidays. Chasing expectations or trying to live up to others’ can be a holiday joy killer. For ourselves and for our families. For the students we work with. The gift might not be perfect. That family member might not come. There might be fighting when the willingness to play nice wears off. The money might not be enough, or the dread of impending debt can be crippling.

Flash back to the iPhone conversation. I quickly explained again to my daughter that I was not getting her a phone and neither was Papa. She was devastated. However, had the expectation of the phone continued to grow for 2 ½ more weeks, the devastation would have grown as well. With the expectations of an iPhone now put to rest, my daughter was able to enjoy the gifts she did receive without the disappointment on Christmas morning.

So, what can we do to help manage expectations this Christmas? Here are some simple questions for yourself and the youth you work with:

      1. For yourself: What expectations placed on you by others are weighing you down this year? Who do you need to let down gently? What personal expectations do you need to lower or adjust?
      2. For youth that might be struggling this holiday: What are their plans for the holidays? What are they anticipating about the holidays? What they are nervous about or dreading during Christmas?

Sometimes our youth seem hyper-expectant and overtly emotional, and other times they seem to blow off the holidays in apathy. My experience has been that all still feel the pressure of expectations. It has also been my experience that talking to them about their interpretation of expectations can be freeing for them and allows us to see what needs or struggles exist.

As you head into this season, start by checking your own expectations and then helping those around you understand their own expectations. You might just be surprised at how it changes Christmas.

 

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.
How to Create an Inviting Environment

How to Create an Inviting Environment

It’s Thanksgiving Day! Many of us are rejoicing, thankful for the break from school and work and excited for time with family. Some of us are exhausted from the travel it took to get where the family is gathering or are emotionally drained because the Holidays remind us of the loss of a loved one. Still others are dreading the time spent with extended family. The stress and tension of years of unresolved issues makes it so hard to endure the time together, anxiously waiting for the moment when we are back sleeping in our own beds.

If you can relate to that last one, this post is especially for you. If it is not you, hopefully it will help you process through how you are creating an environment that your kids long to be a part of.

Even though I am not to the point of having adult children yet, I can tell you this is something my wife and I are thinking about often. It is also something I can speak to from the experience of feeling welcome at my in-laws home while I don’t at my parents’ home.

The core conversation here is about what environment you are creating that is so inviting that your teenager doesn’t want to go somewhere else during the Holidays. Isn’t that what we want to create for our kids so they will love being around when they are adults?

This question came to mind the other day when I was being interviewed on a Dallas radio station and someone called in and asked what you can do when a teen chooses to rebel and gets pulled away by gangs or a negative community that we know will lead them to a place they do not want to go (such as drug users). What a tough question to address! But I believe there is an answer and it begins with us as the adults.

So here are some ideas on how you can create the most engaging, exciting and safe place for your kids to be.

 

  • Stop talking negatively about your family in front of your kids. For some of us this is hard. There is so much emotion attached to our parents or siblings that it is hard to filter, and it just comes out. Think about it this way. Since our kids are highly influenced by the behavior we model, are we teaching them to talk badly about us by doing that with other family members? I want to be very aware of the way I, instead, model respect for my family so they learn that, even when it is hard, it is still right to have respect and love for family. It’s exactly what I want them to do for me.

 

  • It’s not the tradition that matters, it’s the consistency at each gathering that makes it meaningful. My wife is amazing, and one reason is because she leads our family in writing down something we are thankful for each day during the month of November. But the key is the flexibility she allows to make it possible. Some years we have taken the time to create a whole tree with “thankful leaves” on it, and other years we simply write them in her journal (even though we sometimes have to catch up after 3 or 4 days of not writing them down). The best part is our kids now remind us when we didn’t write them down and even get excited that November is coming so we will get to write our “thankfuls” down every day.

 

  • Try not to make them do it. If you are forcing your kids participate, it may be the wrong activity for your family, or maybe they just need you to help them see why it is important. The important thing here is to remember it is a long-term effect you are wanting. So changing the activity to find the right one will be worth it once they are bought into it being a part of what it means to be in your family.

 

  • Remember, they will talk about it the way you do. If you complain that the years they were growing up were crazy and hard and no one liked being around each other, that is how they will remember it, too. If, instead, we strive to point out the good things we remember and what we learned from the hard times, those will be the memories that rise to the top for all of us. I am reading The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch Holocaust survivor. Re-reading her story reminds me of the horrific experiences she had to endure, and yet she was ultimately able to see the good that could come from it. In a similar way, we can teach our teenagers to do the same.

 

I hope this Thanksgiving you will look for the ways you can begin to create an environment in your family, at home and around special events that your kids don’t want to miss out on.

 

How have you seen this happen? What can you share with the rest of us about how to create these spaces? I look forward to hearing from you!

Ricky Lewis is our CEO and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
A Collective Community Christmas

A Collective Community Christmas

It’s Christmas season, and I must admit that I am a huge Christmas movie fan. I love them all – the classics, the comedies, the cheesy made-for-tv specials. But one of my very favorites is the Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It is a great movie if you are looking for a laugh, but more than that, there is a quote from the Grinch that perfectly negates a common misconception about Christmas.

“It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas…means a little bit more.”

It is so easy to get caught up in the presents, holiday treats, Christmas lights and fun that comes along with this time of year, but that is not what Christmas is about.

The Collective Community Christmas Party that happened this week for our teenaged parents was a true Christmas miracle, and one that I am proud to brag about. Each holiday season, Teen Lifeline holds a Christmas party for the teenaged parents that we work with throughout the year. They bring their families for dinner, Santa pictures and a chance to pick out Christmas presents for their kids. I love the hugs and gratitude we receive after this night. The smiles on their faces when they tell me that their kids will have presents on Christmas because of us. But it isn’t just because of us. There are too many people who help make this night, those presents, this experience a reality for teen parents.

To show the collective efforts that go into this night, I would like to give a few “Thank Yous” to those who sacrificed time, energy and resources:

Thank you, North Ridge Middle School! Your Christmas Drive provided teen parents with toys, supplies, clothes and diapers. Not only did we give these out at the Christmas party, but they will continue to bless these teen families throughout 2016!

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Courtesy of North Ridge Middle School.

Thank you, NRH Police Department! The presents from your annual Toy Drive will help young parents provide a Christmas morning for their children. I wish you could have seen the moms and dads as they thoughtfully picked through your toys for the perfect gift that would bring a smile to their child’s face!

Thank you, Healing Hands International for the diaper bags, quilts, stuffed animals, and toys! We are so grateful that you chose to share the generosity of others with us.

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Thanks Healing Hands International!

Thank you, Heritage Church of Christ and The Hills Church! You shared your building, volunteers and decorations with us to make this night run smoothly. Thank you for giving up a Sunday night during this busy season and making our party possible.

Thank you Devon Renee Photography and of course, Santa! You put (mostly) smiles on the faces of kids and captured these memories perfectly!

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Picture taken by Devon Renee Photography.

It is easy to focus on ourselves, our schedules and our wants during the holidays, but I am thankful that these people chose to set themselves aside, and I know that our teen parents are thankful, too! I love the perspective of North Ridge Middle School teacher Kim Holbrook when she said:

“I am so glad we could help out. I too was a teen mom, and had it not been for my parents and the support that so many people offered me, I would not be where I am today.  It has truly blessed me to be a part of this community service project!!”

Like the Grinch said, maybe Christmas means a little bit more…

Maybe it means giving sacrificially so that others can have more. This holiday season, look for ways to look outside of yourself, what you are getting and how much food you are going to eat. Give up an hour or so to help someone else!

Maybe it means accepting others’  generosity and the gift of knowing that someone else cares. Don’t forget to be thankful (actually say it out loud) for the people you are around and the gifts you will receive next week.

If we’ll let it, Christmas can mean so much more.

 

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