Last month, I had the pleasure of training a group of college students preparing to be camp counselors. My main purpose in the training was to equip them to support kids from hard places. Many of the camps they would be doing would take them into areas of the city where behavioral issues and lack of family support would be likely prevalent.
During the Q&A session at the end, questions kept coming up about how they should handle discipline. One counselor asked, “Can we make the kids do pushups if they are misbehaving or late?”. This is a common form of discipline within sports or camps, and I have never liked it. Personally, I think it can be pretty degrading to a kid to give penance in the form of a pushup – but despite how much I despise the approach, I answered – “Yes.”
But I had a caveat.
“As long as you do the pushups with them.”
The group laughed, but the point was taken. When you make kids do pushups for misbehaving, is any connection made? Or are we further cementing our authority and power? However, when we do pushups with the kids, connection is created and there is some sense of shared responsibility.
Because if the kids are constantly misbehaving or late – does the fault completely lay on their shoulders? Or is it a power play for the adult to dish out the discipline without also taking some of the blame?
As helpers of students, we often forget the power of vulnerability and connection when it comes to how we correct. It is much easier to point out the mistakes with our kids. It’s much harder to admit our culpability.
This concept rang true to me as I read through a recent study on teenagers and cell phone use commissioned by Common Sense Media. The main takeaway of the study showed that 1 in 3 teenagers take their cell phones to bed and report checking their phones multiple times overnight.
Simply put, this is a horrifying trend. Numerous studies have confirmed the “blue light” emitted by screens should be eliminated at least 30 minutes before bed, and cell phone be removed from the bedroom for any chance of quality sleep. Why on earth would teenagers do this to themselves?
Well, because we do. The same study reports 61% of adults check their phone within 30 minutes of going to bed. Simply put – we adults have developed some nasty habits with our devices and our kids are watching.
An interesting thought that came out of the same study showed the number of teenagers who think their parents are spending way too much time on the phone went up by 11%. But teenagers own assessment of how much time they spent on devices was more muted. While they thought their parents spend way too much time on the phone, they felt like their time was just about right.
This study highlighted how teenagers can develop really unhealthy habits and suffer loss of sleep and health as a result. As an adult it would be easy to just tell a student to not take their phone to bed. If so, prepare for a fight.
It’s like this in so many aspects of our parenting and mentoring of students. We are quick to point out their issues and tell them where they should change, but even with the lightest of scrutiny, we as adults aren’t doing much better.
This isn’t just about cell phones and sleep. It’s how we deal with our stress. It’s how we self-medicate. It’s about our anger. It’s our discontent. Do we not realize our kids are watching us, even if they seem aloof?
This offers opportunity for connection. For example, if you know your teenager is taking their phone to bed, you likely are as well. Instead of laying down the law, why not share your own struggle and create a plan to deal with it together?
Or maybe you struggle with anger or outbursts. Maybe acknowledge that with your kid? Apologize? Even ask for help?
When we choose connection with our teenagers, we build relationship. It’s the harder road, but it is one that acknowledges our humanity as well as respects where our teenager is developmentally.
We cannot ask our teenagers to travel roads we do not presently travel. By choosing vulnerability and connection, we choose to travel those roads together.
Chris has worked with teens from a variety of backgrounds for over a decade. He has a desire to help teenagers make good choices while also giving their families tools to communicate more effectively as choices are made.
I love teens (obviously). I spend my time, energy and free time working with, encouraging and getting to know teenagers. Many times, I receive so much joy from working with this population – the times they write me letters, say they want to be just like me when they grow up, thank me for my time, or tell me how much I have changed their life for the better.
Ha! Do you know how many times this has happened? I could probably count them on one hand…or 2 fingers.
Instead, what reward do I get for working with teenagers on a daily basis? Let me list a few and see if you can relate:
A daily ego-check.
If you are going to spend any significant amount of time with teenagers, you better develop a pretty solid self-esteem.
Teenagers have a way of being brutally honest and pointing out your tiniest flaws. Where an adult might let something slip out of a sense of decency, a teenager will point out when you have a booger stuck to your hand – thank you for announcing that to a group of high school boys in the middle of my introduction.
They will mock the way you talk, ask why you look like a middle schooler, tell you that your activity is stupid and roll their eyes at every opportunity.
If that doesn’t make you want to jump into a profession of working with adolescents, I don’t know what will!
A chance to reflect on my life choices.
I have yet to get a clear answer on why middle school or high school students feel like they are mature/knowledgeable/experienced enough to judge my life choices, but it happens quite frequently.
“You’re married already?? How old are you anyways? You should have dated a few more years before you decided to do that…” or “I’m never getting married! Do you really want to stay with him for the rest of your life? I’d rather just chill until I’m 30 or something.”
“You live in a house? Shouldn’t you be saving money and live in an apartment before you have kids?”
“You have to work with kids like us every day? That must suck.” (His words, not mine!)
“You went to school in Abilene? There is NOTHING out there. Why didn’t you go to TCU?”
Sorry, it’s a little too late for me to go back and change where I went to school or who I married (not that I would want to), but I am thankful for the constant reminders that I am throwing my life away.
Nightmares about the future of our nation.
Let me just preface this one by saying that I work with students at an alternate campus on a weekly basis – those kicked off of their home campus for one reason or another.
Many times, when talking about the future, what they would want to change and what could be better, I get the response, “Next time, I won’t get caught.”
I talk to students with great, impressive dreams like playing basketball in the NBA, becoming a recording artist, going to law school, becoming a surgeon. I love encouraging every teen I meet to chase their dreams and do what it takes to make them a reality.
However, I do not have great confidence in the future lawyer who cannot currently stay awake in a 45 minute group because he is still high from the night before. Or the future doctor who is failing science because she won’t turn in her assignments.
So why do we do it?
Working with teenagers is hard, but I don’t do it for the money or thanks I hope to receive.
Here are some of the real reasons why it is worth it to continue to love, minister to and encourage teenagers:
Lots of laughter.
No matter what population I am working with – students on alternative campuses, teen-aged parents, or seniors getting ready to graduate – they are in an exciting time of life, filled with laughter and few real-life responsibilities.
Even in the midst of junk, grief, drama and consequences, taking time to laugh and remember the little things in life is a good thing.
In our groups, we often to ask, “What is one good thing that is going on this week?”
Sometimes the answers are exciting, sometimes the only answer is “nothing bad happened,” and sometimes we get to celebrate and laugh at the small victory of “eating Taco Bueno” for dinner.
Hope for those who still have time to change.
As I joked about earlier, I cannot go back and change high school or college. It is too late for me, but it is not too late for them!
Middle and High School can be confusing and overwhelming, but they are at a point in their lives where they can choose who they want to be and where they want their life to go. They have the power to change for the better and start living a better story.
You get to encourage that! You get to speak life and offer suggestions and dream big dreams with them – that is a job worth your time.
Reminders that they do care – and they notice when others care about them.
In our Teen Lifeline Support Groups, my favorite week of the curriculum is when we talk about relationships and how close they feel to those in their lives. I love hearing about their families and friends, and it matters to them that you are there for them, consistently and unconditionally.
Sometimes I wish I could play back a tape of our discussion to a student’s parents/teachers/coaches/mentors. They tell me being grounded by a mom who cares and sacrifices so they can have better life. They talk about dads who never miss a game and support them when they are at their worst. They mention coaches who help tutor them after school and invite them over to eat dinner when their parents are absent. I hear about youth ministers and parents of friends who stand in the gap when no other adult will.
You matter. They recognize that you matter.
From them, and from a former teenager who was just as ungrateful, thank you for investing and pushing through insecurities, frustration and discouragement to make a difference in the life of a teenager.
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.
I love this time of year, the time when crayons are on sale and my newsfeed is filled with pictures of forced-smiling students in backpacks. Every year when August rolls around, I like to drag out my old pictures and reflect back on all of my FDOS (First Days of School).
I think back to when I was in Kindergarten and was so excited to be in “big kid school” with my new backpack and friends, but promptly fell asleep as soon as I got home due to all that excitement.
I will probably never forget my first day of Middle School…the nerves and anxiety of wondering if I would remember my locker combination, who I would sit by at lunch, and if I would survive the mature and much cooler 8th graders. I do look back on this day with super warm fuzzys.
I definitely remember my first day of Senior year! This year came with few nerves and doubts. By this time, I knew what to expect and where I stood, this FDOS was all excitement, anticipation and hope.
If we are being honest, as many FDOS as I had in elementary, middle and high school, it is that first day (and week) of college that sticks out the most to me. Just like in kindergarten, I had a new backpack, new friends and a brand new environment. I was missing home but was nervous-excited for what the next four years would bring. However, more than anything else, I felt prepared; I knew that all the other “Firsts” were leading up to this big one.
As the first day of school comes and goes each, whether you have a baby at home, just walked your kindergartener into their first class or dropped you college student off in a strange town, your goal is for them to make it to that “Last First Day.” While parenting your children with the end in mind (hopefully that they will grow up, move on and have families of their own), there are several things you can do to prepare them for the inevitable – the leaving part.
1. Encourage and equip at every stage.
Don’t force your child to grow up too fast, but don’t ever ask, “Do you really think you are ready for this?” Instill confidence in your kids from the time they step into elementary school to their last day of college. If they feel prepared and that you are cheering them on at every step, that transition is so much easier!
2. Slowly release the reigns.
Kids need boundaries, especially the teenager-types! However, they also need to begin to explore and regulate their own boundaries before they are completely on their own. When they first get their car, make their curfew a little stricter than necessary so you can relax as they approach their senior year. Give more responsibilities, show more trust and pry less as they get older. This not only shows that you trust them, but also gives them the opportunity to excel (or fail) for the first in your home and not when they are living in a dorm room 1,000 miles away.
3. Ask about their hopes and dreams.
Ask them about their future, where they hope to be in college, after college and beyond. By doing this, you are forcing them to think about their goals and what it will take to get there. I have yet to meet a teenager without a dream for their future, but this future can seem far away for the 6th grader who just wants to be popular or the junior in high school who can’t seem to pass Physics. Give them motivation now and the expectation that, one day, they will have their own plans outside of you and your home.
4. Tell them about your hopes and dreams.
Let them know what dreams you have for their future! When you were holding your newborn for the first time, you were probably not dreaming that he would find great friends, date the perfect girl and finish high school only to live in your basement for the rest of his life. You might have had grand dreams of college, a great career, a loving family and grandbabies. Remind them (and yourself) that you want them to leave. You want them to be mature and responsible enough to be on their own and function as a (somewhat normal) human being.
5. Prepare yourself.
The greatest way to prepare your kids to graduate, grow up and move out on their own is to prepare yourself. Take pictures, cry as they drive themselves to school for the first time, force them to participate in family game nights, but don’t lose sight of the dreams and goals we just talked about. Parent with the end in mind, knowing that they will leave and that is good. Instead of making them feel guilty for leaving you, send them off with the confidence and trust that they will excel because they are prepared.
Karlie Duke was in one of Teen Lifeline’s original support groups and now is our Communications Director. She is passionate about speaking life into students and encouraging them to live better stories.
Working with teens for the last 10 years I have heard a lot about how hard it is to get along with parents. (I’ve also heard about dealing with tough teens but that’s another post). The crazy thing is many of the underlying issues are the same. Things obviously look very different now then 100 years ago. Still the way we interact and handle relationships hasn’t changed all that much. If we can realize this it will make it much easier to know what to do.
This post is for the teens but should help parents as well. Reality is seeing the other persons side is often the hardest part of relationships. Understanding what teens may be trying to do will help parents interact more positively too.
I was turned onto a story from Newsweek by Michael Hyatt and his Podcast, What the Internet is doing to our brains [and what we can do about it], a couple of weeks ago. I was intrigued because this is something that I not only hear about all the time working with teens but my young children are consumed with wanting to play games watch shows and they expect they can do it whenever and wherever they want.
The Newsweek article can be found online under Is the Internet Driving us Mad? and here is a video posted there that sums up some ways to deal with how we use the internet.