Mean What You Say

Mean What You Say

Don’t worry this isn’t a post about lying or “stretching the truth”. My thoughts are more in line with the intentionality we should use with our words. The core idea is that we should, generally speaking, talk less and listen more.

While that would be nice it is often hard to do. Especially if you are leading people or if you are parenting. There is a time for listening but there is also a responsibility to share your knowledge and wisdom with the people that are looking to you to direct them. Once you have listened, choose your words carefully so that they can intentionally help increase communication. If what you say prompts people to ask questions about what you are saying that is a good thing. If the questions are centered around gaining clarification about the task you are asking them to do that’s even better.

 
The hope here is that there are some ways you can bring some intentionality to the way you word things that helps to increase communication and invite conversation. With teenagers this is a key to getting the information you need from them to help them or to realize that they don’t need your help. There are plenty of communication lessons you can learn out there but today I want to focus on how the way we word things can make a lot of the difference.

 
When you say something you should mean it. I hear adults often threaten the youth they work with but everyone, including the youth, know they would never follow through on what is being threatened. This is a tough thing at times but it is definitely not impossible. The truth is it is much better to take a step back and use less harsh language that you are able to follow through on than threatening something huge that there is no way you will follow through on or worse that if you did you would regret it.

 
Think about how certain phrases can either teach or hinder learning. The students you work with need to learn from you. And to complicate things they will likely have different learning styles than you. So thinking clearly about how to phrase things is very helpful. Working out in your mind how to put things simply and then wait for their clarifying questions is a job that is tough but worth the effort. If, as adults, we think through the possible ways a conversation can play out (based on how well we know the teenager) we will help move things forward much more effectively by using the least amount of explanation possible. The truth is with teenagers it is not necessary to explain all the details. They are learning from a lot of different places so it may be true that they have gained information we didn’t give them and can apply it to the situation that is unfolding before you. Allowing this to happen can save a lot of frustration and time for both you and the teen.

 
Sometimes leaving out words or whole sentences benefits the conversation. We often think that we can just give all the information to a person and they will grasp it and will be able to tackle the task at hand and accomplish what we want them to. The truth is sometimes leaving out little details can actually help the person by allowing them to figure out certain pieces of the task themselves. It may also requested them to ask for help and the process of them knowing what they need actually helps them understand problem solving better than if you just gave them the answer from the beginning. This must be used very deliberately and not as a test (although there is a place for that) but instead as a way to challenge someone who is needing to learn and possibly even experience some failure. 

 
These 3 approaches to working inside of relationships will help you to reduce stress that often comes from the give and take of conversations. Implementing them takes knowing the people you are interacting with. They will not work the same with everyone but instead will need to be carefully evaluated and used with discretion in order to gain the most beneficial outcome. 

 
What are some ways you have found that you can mean what you say in order to gain the most benefit out of your interactions with students?

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
My Post That Made Everyone Mad

My Post That Made Everyone Mad

Recently I posted something online that had a little bit of “edge” to it (in reality, I was just frustrated about something and was venting), and someone close to me sent me a message about how it hurt their feelings. I remember feeling strange about the whole interaction to be honest. We cleared things up, but it made me think about how we interact, and what is considered normal these days. 

There has been a lot written about the potential effects of social media consumption, how it impacts our thinking and interactions, as well as what could be coming as a result of our conduct. Some say it doesn’t really matter, while others are waving red flags.

The truth is, we don’t really know a lot yet. Social media has only been a real player for the last 15 years or so. We can’t predict a lot of what will come of this age of social media connection, but we can make some observations based upon our experiences.

The aforementioned interaction left me wondering how we are supposed to interact, because what happened didn’t feel natural or right. First of all, I chose to vent a frustration on a digital platform to my followers (which aren’t many). Why did I do this? What was I hoping to accomplish with something like that? Upon examination, it was a cathartic exercise that didn’t really accomplish anything positive. I had some people who supported it, some people who disagreed, and then had people who didn’t know each other arguing about something I said.

Read that again: I had people who didn’t know each other arguing about something I said.

Isn’t that a strange outcome?

All of this happened without seeing, hearing, or being in the presence of the people who agreed, disagreed, or were hurt by what I said. Something that substituted for human interaction (social media) became the vehicle for picking up and dropping off feelings and thoughts, totally out of context and without a clear direction.

I haven’t posted anything since on social media. While my interactions weren’t particularly hostile, they gave me cause to think about how I want to relate to the people in my life. While I’m not against social media, I AM for being honest about our experiences.

My experience tells me:

  • People tend to think the worst of each other when they disagree on social media
  • Tone and context are completely lost on posts 
  • We post our frustrations to get a response (which is what I did)
  • We post our good stuff to curate a positive image about our lives
  • Because we read about what is going on with other people, we often do not pursue face-to-face interactions
  • Do you disagree with this? Or, does this resonate with you on some level?

 

To be sure, ask yourself these questions next time you are on social media for any period of time: 

  • What do I feel about the people I just interacted with online?
  • Do I feel any closer with these people?
  • How do I feel about myself?
  • How would this be different if I saw them face-to-face? 

As adults, we need to be thinking about these things. Teenagers are neck deep in this world and many we talk to are looking for something more real, authentic. We have the chance to use social media for the things that are useful, but leave the relationship stuff up to real and personal conversations. 

What are your thoughts on this? Has your experience been any different?

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s Program Director, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
Repost: Why Empathy Matters

Repost: Why Empathy Matters

This week’s blog post is most likely to bring some deja vu to any dedicated readers of TeenLife. My name is Maddi and I work as an intern for TeenLife. This week I was asked by Ricky to find an old blog post that I connected to and repost it. After looking through many old posts more than once, I found one that was written pretty recently that really spoke to me. I have had my fair share of difficulties in life and have even participated in a support group provided by TeenLife since 2014. In this group I experienced, and continue to experience, true empathy. For the first time I was in a safe place that I felt comfortable talking about my troubles in. I had previously attempted to confide in my closest friends but found that to not be very helpful. Of course they had the best intentions and did their best to try and help me through my hard times, but there was no way they could have understood what I was going through. In this group I was in a place surrounded by people that weren’t trying to make me feel better by spouting the typical lines most people do. They understood what I was going through and empathized with me. I chose this blog post because most people choose to sympathize rather than empathize. My hope is by reading this you will realize how to be the type of person a friend can and will go to for help. 

This post originally posted in May right before our Spring Fundraising Event. 

Tomorrow is our Feed the Need Packing Party, and we are so excited to help more teenagers through the meals packed and funds raised through this fundraiser.

As we prepare for this fundraiser, I can’t help but think of the faces and stories of teenagers that I get to work with on a weekly basis. Their pain is real. Their success changes lives. Their questions are relevant. Their stories change my perspective.

You may be asking yourself, “How deep can you really go with teenagers when you only see them once a week for an hour? Do they actually share? What could they be dealing with that could rival adult problems?”

You would be shocked.

I can learn more about a teen in a one-hour Support Group meeting than many people can find out over months.

How is this possible?

Empathy.

Empathy makes all the difference in the world. In these Support Groups, we are not asking questions because we want to be nosy, tell them what they are doing wrong, or even fix their lives. We ask questions because we want to step into life with them, even when it’s hard and there is no easy fix in sight.

I absolutely love the Brené Brown video below. She expertly describes the difference between empathy and sympathy while revealing the power of showing true empathy in difficult circumstances.

When you watch the video, you can see that empathy is a powerful tool, especially when dealing with teenagers.

Just this year alone, I have had teenagers tell me about:

  • Broken home lives where they are forced to choose who they want to live with.
  • Families who encourage drug use while they are trying to stay clean.
  • Fathers who bring their mistress into the home while mom tries to keep the family together.
  • 30-hour work weeks to help the family pay medical bills.
  • A fear of graduation because that is when they will be kicked out of their house.
  • Extreme racism and name calling in a work environment.

Do I have the answers to these problems? Can I come up with magic words to make the hurt go away?

Absolutely not!

But I can listen. I can tell them that I am so sorry they are having to deal with such difficult life circumstances. I can sit in a chair beside them and step into their world for an hour a week. I can give them a safe, judgement-free zone to talk about their lives and problems.

I can empathize.

I encourage you to try some of the tactics mentioned in the video and to avoid phrases like “at least.” Step into a teenager’s shoes, crawl down into the pit with them, and show that someone cares and wants to listen.

In order for us to continue to provide these Support Groups and show empathy, we have our annual fundraiser. And so I also encourage you to get involved with our fundraiser! You can donate, pray, volunteer or simply share our fundraising page with friends to raise more awareness and help us reach our goal. It is not too late to make a difference in the lives of teenagers – join 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.
4 Lessons for Surviving Life

4 Lessons for Surviving Life

Last week I went to a camp, we call it a “Leadership School”, for 8th through 12th graders. You will understand by the end of this post why we call it Leadership School.

During this one week in the summer I help coordinate teachers who focus on helping teenagers learn lessons that enable them to grow and have an impact in their world. Their world being the people immediately around them most of the time. In this context that leads to a broader impact but it gives teenagers a much more tangible group of people to focus on.

I grew up going to this Leadership School, called Summer Excitement, and 30+ years later it is still doing an amazing job of training young people to lead, care and be aware of the world around them in an intentional way. It is a “church camp” but depending on your exposure to what that looks like (I have seen that done really well and really poorly) don’t dismiss the rest of this post because of a bias you may have. The lessons these students received last week have far reaching impacts and have planted seeds that years from now will effect countless numbers of people.

During the course of the week we covered several “topics”. I became aware of the fact that the topics that we were exploring have a lot of impact in everyday life. This made me begin thinking about how to share this. I have chosen 4 of the focus areas and hope that you find this helpful and that it prompts you to evaluate how you are living. I also hope it helps you seek out conversations with teenagers around you to explore how these could apply to their life and guide the things they are pursuing.

Each of the below ideas are centered around Community*. This idea comes up all the time in the support groups Teen Life provides. The idea that connection matters. We are all looking for the best way to connect with the world around us but more importantly on a meaningful, deep level with people close to us. Being alone is not a good thing. My hope is you find a community around you to implement the below lessons with.

Generous

The idea here is that we all have what we need around us. It’s an attitude of abundance as Michael Hyatt has put it in several of his blogs. It is a mindset that the things I have can be shared and that by sharing them I am actually enabling others to give some of what they have and as this extends out we all actual end up with more, not less. I didn’t know until I heard this in the class last week that in order to make more than 99% of the world annually you only have to make $32,400. $32,400 a year puts you in the top 1% of people making money in the world! I couldn’t believe it. But that is not all. We all have other resources. Sometimes it is simply other things that we have and don’t need any more. Have you ever taken some things to a thrift store or homeless shelter? Those donations make a huge difference. You could also be generous with your time. I know we all want to believe we are too busy but I think that being busy is a mind set. We all have the same amount of time each day. It’s what we are doing with that time that matters. If we choose we can have time to share. There will definitely be seasons that are busier than others but if you are living your whole life too busy to help others you’re doing it wrong, or you could just have the wrong perspective. Which leads us to the next lesson.

Service

This is a popular idea but I believe has gotten a little bit skewed in the world today. You see there is too often a sense that serving others is really about gaining something myself. Between Honor Society requirements for service hours, well intended school service projects, how it looks on a college app or even required community services these all lead to a mindset that we serve to gain something for ourselves. The truth is one of the keys to service being the most effective is that it has nothing to do with me getting anything out of it. It must being void of selfishness. This is the best way for the “server” and the “served” to get the most out of the service opportunity. Notice I did not say the “only” way. But it is the “best” way. There is an emotional level of serving that we have little to no control over and that only reaps the most benefit to both sides when we approach these serving opportunities in the best way.

Encouragement

Don’t we all want this?! Of course we do but yet it is so hard to give or to get. Our world has become so shallow and void of vulnerability that our suspicion of everyone around us is raised almost all of the time. “Why are they being so nice?” goes through our minds much of the time when someone does something nice. Do they have a hidden agenda or are they trying to get something? It is hard to believe that people could just genuinely be encouraging and kind and not be trying to get something in return but instead are being kind and encouraging simply because someone has been that way to them first. This is what makes this so important. When we experience encouragement, true unsolicited selfless encouragement, we feel what it is like and usually fall in love with it so much that we want to do it for others. Here is where the intentionality of this comes into play though. I believe that encouragement is something that should be given freely but at the same time should not be wasted. So, you decide, who are the people around you that you should encourage? This is not a question of who deserves it because, be honest, none of us really do. It is a question of “Who do I see around me that needs encouragement?” This is an approach that sees encouragement as a gift we have to give and we are actively paying attention in a way that means it could change someone’s life just to offer a little encouragement. It may be a little encouragement but it could be a BIG deal to that person.

Peculiar

Weird, odd, not normal. Peculiar. The idea here is that we don’t give in to the status quo or the cultural standard. That instead we rise above and step back to see the bigger picture of what is happening and be willing to do things that aren’t considered normal because they make more sense then what the majority of people believe. This takes asking good questions and being skeptical. Not suspicious but skeptical in a way that means we are looking for the motive behind things and how we can influence and support what is really going to matter for people. This is peculiar. The tendency is to simply listen to the loudest voice and join in but being peculiar means evaluating what is in the best interest of all people and how my actions and the way I connect, encourage and serve can bring hope to a situation that otherwise feels hopeless. Just to give you a personal example of this. My wife and I recently adopted 3 kids to grow our family to a total of 9, yes we are outnumbered. We had plenty of people supporting us and also plenty of people making sure we had considered all the reasons this wouldn’t work. I so appreciate both. But at the end of the day we chose what didn’t make any sense at all and adopted 3 kids and are in the process of deciding how that is going to be the best thing that has ever happened to our family. It is very hard but in the end we are choosing to be peculiar and believe that it is the right decision for everyone including my wife and I who are learning things about life we could have never learned any other way. That is peculiar.

This is obviously not an exhaustive list but I do believe that these 4 lessons can not only help you survive at life but even thrive. Once we feel empowered to thrive it propels us to pass that on and helps us truly be able to make a difference in the world.

 

What would you add? What things have you found to be vital to your growth and survival in your own life?

*The above thoughts on Community and four “lessons” I outlined are influenced by the book Good and Beautiful Community

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
What To Do After “13 Reasons Why”

What To Do After “13 Reasons Why”

*This is the third in a series of three blog posts this week regarding the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.” Check out the first two posts if you missed them!

Part 1 – The Good of “13 Reasons Why”

Part 2 – The Ugly of “13 Reasons Why”

Past 3 – What To Do After “13 Reasons Why”

 


 

Here’s the truth. 13 Reasons Why is a Netflix original show. It is entertainment. People have ranted and raved about whether it should or should not be out there. Well, all that attention means a second season is coming. This is a testament that any press is good press. It brought a lot of attention but to what end? I hope it promoted meaningful conversation between teens and adults, and I trust that this week we have encouraged more good discussion. That is why we wanted to end our blog series with this particular post.

One thing I felt was missing from the whole show was examples of people seeking out help and succeeding. Why is that? Is it that it would have taken away from the entertainment value? I don’t believe so. I think they missed a major opportunity to model for teenagers how to seek out helpful resources. The direction to a website in the opening of each episode was nice, but all that is there are crisis hotlines and links to click further and try to figure out how to get help. What would have been more effective, I believe, is showing in every episode some examples of someone successfully seeking and receiving help.

With that as the background for this post, the goal here is to give you, the reader, ideas and some direct resources to help a teen in the real world who is struggling. This should not be seen as a replacement for continued training or adhering to any law directing you how to respond. But rather, this post could be a reference tool to get you to the resources needed to be ready and have on hand if the time arises. Though, truth be told, all of us hope we never have to use these resources.

First, just the fact that there is a show about suicide is enough to bring up the discussion about such a serious topic. You don’t have to watch the show for that conversation to start. You could watch any number of shows if you need a starting place, but none of those are going to have the answers. Only an open and honest conversation about what your student is facing and needs will meet the desire for discussion that is there. So take the opportunity. Ask questions and invite conversation, then listen.

Second, look locally at what is available. In the Fort Worth area, there is a Suicide Awareness Coalition. Attending these monthly meetings has kept the conversation in front of me and our team and helped us not lose sight of the seriousness of the situation. In addition, there are often classes, seminars, or workshops you are able to attend. These are usually geared toward licensed professionals but can be attended by anyone. I have gained a lot of helpful connections and tools this way.

Third, personally check in on the resources. Call the national hotline yourself. Time how long the wait is. Make note of the prompts and be prepared to communicate those to someone you might need to share that resource with. Visit local organizations that offer services. Ask specific questions related to the things teens you work with have brought up. It is very helpful for you to simply be able to say, “I visited this place and the people there really want to help.” This is so helpful because many times people in a severely depressed state don’t believe anyone wants to help them, and they need a lot of reassurance from someone they trust. You want to be confident in the resources you are suggesting if you ever need to be that person.

Fourth, once you are equipped with information and resources, you will feel prepared if a situation happens. This happened for me just a few months ago. I had a friend call, and he was actively suicidal. I found this out by asking pointed questions like, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” and “Do you have a plan?” When the answer to these questions were both, “Yes!” We called the local crisis line together. I was so glad I had the number in my phone. They gave us some options of places to go, he picked one, and I took him there. I stayed for about 4 hours. Yes it took time, but I was so glad I stayed until he got medical attention and checked into a program to get help. I am convinced he would have killed himself if I had not been there.

Fifth, the last scenario you want to be prepared for is what to do if a teen you know does kill themselves or if a friend of theirs does. This is where the above resources come in. They will help you be prepared to reach out or be able to listen and ask helpful questions. Again, here locally there is a resource called LOSS Team. This is a volunteer led group that is available to survivors of suicide. They are specifically trained and equipped to help handle a loss. If you don’t have one in your community, reach out to local counseling services for groups or to a local church that may offer a resource. As with all grief, everyone handles a loss to suicide differently. It is important to know that grieving a suicide is different than other grief though. Knowing this is the important piece. Finding a resource specific to people who have lost someone to suicide is the ideal situation.

To be clear, what you are doing here is not equipping yourself to be the professional, long-term solution to help someone that is thinking about suicide. You are educating yourself to be a first line of defense, working in a preventative way to significantly reduce the number of students who end up in a place where they feel so hopeless they don’t know where to turn when they have suicidal thoughts. That’s right I said “when.” The truth is many of us, including myself, have thoughts of suicide at one time or another. The problem comes when we believe the lie that we are the only one, and that means we have no hope of recovery. Instead, we need someone like you to come alongside us and walk with us through that dark place until we get back to where we can find the reason for living again.

What is missing? What other resources are you aware of that can make a huge difference in helping teenagers as they navigate stress, anxiety and depression? Their struggle, or yours, does not ever neeed to end in suicide. Let’s pull together and raise awareness to end suicide all together. 

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
The Ugly of “13 Reasons Why”

The Ugly of “13 Reasons Why”

*This is the second in a series of three blog posts this week regarding the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.” Sign up for our mailing list so you don’t miss the final blog post!

Part 1 – The Good of “13 Reasons Why”

Part 2 – The Ugly of “13 Reasons Why”

Past 3 – What To Do After “13 Reasons Why”

 


 

As a younger Millennial myself, I was both intrigued and disturbed by 13 Reasons Why. While watching the 13 episodes, I saw why it was so popular. I understood why teenagers were flocking towards its authenticity and courage to face topics that are often shoved aside. I got how this polarizing show was starting conversations and making an often overlooked population feel heard and understood. These are all positive things; however, I saw several things that made me nervous.

Teenagers are at a vulnerable age, especially since they are so heavily influenced by the media. While I do agree with several of the things that this series can contribute to our culture, here are some things that I believe were lacking in 13 Reasons Why:

 

  1. The Modeling of Healthy Conversations

Unfortunately, I do not think that 13 Reasons Why showed healthy conversations in the series, either between teens and adults or between peers. If you watch the series, you will see conversations between peers that end in fights, curse words, and bullying. Whether it is conversations with Hannah or about her, there was very little understanding or empathy from peers. Even after Hannah kills herself, the peer response is to hang up a poster, lay out flowers, hide secrets, and continue to spread rumors. Teenagers who watch this series will not leave with a good sense of how to respond to a situation like the one portrayed.

When it comes to the adults, I found myself getting so frustrated with the conversations that were portrayed! Why in the world would a teenager watching this show confide in an adult after watching so many fumble the opportunities presented to them. Parents are invasive, oblivious or downright awkward. The school staff is also incredibly unprepared and even negligent in the case of the school counselor. This is not an accurate representation of the school staff we interact with.

While unhealthy conversation happens more often than we would like, and adults are sometimes unprepared for topics like suicide, rape and bullying, I wish 13 Reasons Why would have taken the opportunity to show positive adult and peer relationships. Kind words, empathetic mentors, and adults who are engaged and present can make a huge difference. I believe we see this message in the show, but they do not actually show what healthy, positive conversations actually look like in this context.

 

  1. Spirituality and Mental Health

Where suicide is concerned, mental health often plays a vital role. While it is not always a factor, I was surprised that the series did not address mental health at all, especially after everything Hannah Baker goes through. From loss of friendships, a new school, and the stress of a struggling family business to rape, bullying, and suicide, Hannah needed help. Mental health is something many people shy away from, but there is nothing shameful about being aware of your mind and seeking help.

In addition to mental health, spirituality was completely absent from the show (unless you count the brief scene about tarot cards). By statistics alone, several of the characters would have some sort of belief system that they would turn to in a situation like this. There is not a single mention of prayer, forgiveness or a higher power throughout the 13 episodes. I know the impact my belief in the healing power of Jesus Christ has had in my own life, and I was disappointed that spirituality was not given a role in this series.

In our Teen Life Support Groups, we find that spirituality plays a huge role in the lives of students, whether they agree with my beliefs or follow a religion at all. To ignore the power and impact of spirituality, especially in times of stress and sadness, is a disservice to the characters and the audience watching. I firmly believe that we have to take care of and address the whole person – body, mind, and spirit – to truly have a healthy sense of self.

 

  1. The Big Picture

Obviously, 13 Reasons Why is told from Hannah Baker’s perspective – I understand that there must be a narrator to drive the story. However, because this series is told only from her view, I believe we miss the picture.

The other day, I asked a teenager who had watched the show what she thought of the series. Her response was, “What happened to Hannah was awful, but she was being dramatic about a lot of it – it’s unrealistic.” Understandably, Hannah had many things to be upset about. From her perspective, so many things went wrong that she had no choice but to kill herself. She was brokenhearted, her reputation was destroyed, she lost her spirit and soul, and she felt completely out of control. I cannot imagine some of the things she goes through in this show, but while she was begging for someone, anyone to care, she failed to care for those around her.

“Some of you care, none of you care enough, neither did I.”

Hannah makes this statement in the very last episode, and it is so true! She did not show empathy or understanding to the other characters. While she is caught up in her life and how wronged she feels, she missed the broken home of one of her peers who is thrown out by mom’s abusive boyfriend. She missed how her own words and actions affected peers when she lashed out or made a scene in public. She avoided her own lack of courage when she missed the opportunity to save a friend.

In the midst of so much wrongdoing, I wish Hannah could have seen her classmates. Was it her fault? Should they have treated her the way they did? Absolutely not! But we need to teach teenagers to see the big picture and empathize with those around them.

We hope this helps you generate some context for opening up conversation with the teens you work with. What other questions are driving your conversations? 

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.
The Good of “13 Reasons Why”

The Good of “13 Reasons Why”

*This is the first in a series of three blog posts this week regarding the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why.” Sign up for our mailing list so you don’t miss the other two blog posts!

Part 1 – The Good of “13 Reasons Why”

Part 2 – The Ugly of “13 Reasons Why”

Past 3 – What To Do After “13 Reasons Why”

 


 

13 Reasons Why is a wildly popular series on Netflix. While Netflix does not release viewing numbers, Variety reports that it was the most tweeted show of 2017 thus far, having received more than 11 million tweets within the first 4 weeks of its initial release. The show is based on Jack Asher’s book by the same name and details the events leading up to the suicide of Hannah Baker, with 13 tapes identifying someone who played a role in her decision.

The series starts with: “Hey, it’s Hannah, Hannah Baker. That’s right. Don’t adjust your… whatever device you’re listening to this on. It’s me, live and in stereo. No return engagements, no encore. And this time absolutely no requests. Get a snack. Settle in. ‘Cause I’m about to tell you the story of my life. More specifically, why my life ended.”

This Netflix series highlights several hot topics including: suicide, rape, drug and alcohol abuse, bullying, and slut shaming. Be forewarned that it contains explicit language and several graphic scenes displaying sexual assault and suicide. Also, be aware that if you are parenting teens, then they probably have seen it or know about it, and so should you.

To start our series of blog posts, we wanted to discuss what 13 Reasons Why does well. We felt it was important to cover what issues are shown accurately in hopes that it makes you, as a parent or pastor, watch with eyes open to see what conversations you need to have with the students in your life, conversations held in private and without judgement. While not an easy watch, we hope these positive takeaways raise awareness of topics that are relevant for youth today. Our next blogs will cover what topics are missing in 13 Reasons Why and will provide a discussion about what should we do now.

13 Reasons Why accurately portrays several facets of life youth face daily. While there is some exaggeration, many of these scenes display an element of truth. Here are just a few of the things you can look for while watching the series:

  • 24/7 access to technology
  • The prevalence and speed at which cyberbullying happens
  • The students’ inability to disconnect, making them constantly vulnerable to online bullying
  • Confusion over sexual consent
  • Pressure to use alcohol and drugs combined with the likelihood of ending up in unintended, difficult situations
  • The difference in perception of sexual activity for males and females

Ultimately, all of these are tied together by the realization that hiding information will make it disappear or will allow youth to avoid consequences. At the end of the series, it shows the reality that hiding is much more difficult than being able to discuss the truth and take responsibility for your actions.

“What does [suicide] really look like? Here’s the scary thing: it looks like nothing . . . It feels like a deep, always blank, endless nothing.”

Hannah’s quote above, repeated at least twice during the series, reveals the truth that suicide does not have one specific look or feel. While there are risk factors that increase the likelihood of dying by suicide, it does not ever look or present the same. Our main take away from 13 Reasons Why is that even though suicide does not have a set appearance, little things can make a huge impact in a person’s daily life. As seen in the series, there are several moments that were brushed off as being unimportant or insignificant from the other students’ perspectives.

There are also several interactions with adults that were not handled appropriately, but on the surface, many of these seemed relatively minor. But Hannah, when telling her story, indicates that if even one of these moments had played out differently, it could have changed her decision to end her life by suicide.

As Hannah said herself, “You don’t know what goes on in anyone’s life but your own. And when you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re not messing with just that part. Unfortunately, you can’t be that precise and selective. When you mess with one part of a person’s life, you’re messing with their entire life. Everything affects everything.”

No one can have a full awareness of another person’s story and struggle. We as adults need to model that every opportunity to treat someone with kindness and respect matters – that the little things can quickly become big things. And that is the main reason why we at Teen Life do what we do. Oftentimes, one hour a week seems insignificant in the scheme of a person’s life. However, we firmly believe that what happens in that one hour, or even in a single interaction, can impact the perspectives and lives of the youth we are privileged to serve. 13 Reasons Why begs you to be aware of how you treat others and how your actions can impact their lives. We’ll leave you to reflect on how you impact others with one last quote from Hannah, who maybe says it best:

I guess that’s the point of it all. No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue.”

To start a meaningful conversation with a teen you know, ask them, “Is there anything you have wanted to talk about recently that we just haven’t had the opportunity to discuss?” Share your ideas in the comments about ways you can invite meaningful conversation with the teens you work with. 

Beth Nichols is Teen Life’s Administrative Assistant. With her background in social work and experience as a mom of 4, her perspective is invaluable.
We Don’t Give Up

We Don’t Give Up

Recently I concluded a guys only Support Group at a local high school which, at the time, I thought was pretty successful. I had built some strong relationships with those young men, found common ground, and seemed to gain their trust. A measure of success for me with teenagers is their willingness to talk about the real stuff – and these guys had no problem telling the truth, even to the point of being uncomfortable. 

Fast forward a few weeks. I walked into another group which is at a local drug rehab for adolescent boys. One of the guys from my previous group was there. He had broken his probation for drug use and was mandated a treatment program. I had also found out two other boys from my previous group got caught up in some heavy drugs and kicked off their school campus. So, what I thought was a successful guys group turned out, at least on its surface, to be a bust. 

If you work with teenagers very long, you will face some disappointment. Really, it’s part of signing up. But, it isn’t why we get into it. 

I got into working with teenagers because I felt like they were a lot of fun to hang out with, I could relate, and maybe I could contribute to their growth in some way. That’s why most people get into a helping profession involving kids. We just love being around them. 

But we aren’t always motivated by what it really takes to be successful with teenagers – the long haul. This is especially true in cases involving teenagers in crisis, that is, students who have significant risk factors at play in their family and development. 

Part of leading a group with those guys helped me understand more about their background. They all had at least one parent who had either rejected them or was no longer in the picture because of prison or by choice. Their systems failed. People failed. Bad choices were made. Labels were applied. They were now “bad kids”. 

Then, one by one, the adults surrounding these guys gave up on them. These boys in return gave up on the adults around them. Everyone just gave up. 

And, after working with these guys for a long time and watching them just fall back into drugs and bad choices, made it tempting for me to give up on them too. They knew what I hoped for them. They remember our conversations. It was really discouraging to see their choices and what path they traveled. 

But here is the thing. At the drug rehab, my young friend lit up when he saw me. I was a familiar face in a difficult situation. We got to talk, and he expressed to me his desire to get things together. My other two friends connected with me as well, and we were able to process the consequences they were about to endure and what they could do differently in the future. 

I chose not to give up on them. And, that is a choice I will likely have to make a few more times before the story is complete. 

Why am I writing this? Don’t give up. That’s what I’m saying. For those of us who work with teenagers – we don’t give up. It isn’t an option. So many others will give up. You don’t have to. 

If you are an adult in a relationship with a teenager who is disappointing you – don’t give up. 

Keep the relationship first. 

Set realistic expectations. 

Keep your eyes on the future. 

Process mistakes and set different goals. 

Don’t give up. 

We don’t give up. 

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s Program Director, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
What Homeless Teens Can Teach Us About Belonging

What Homeless Teens Can Teach Us About Belonging

Listen & Subscribe:  iTunes | Android | RSS


 

 In this final episode of Season 3 of the Stay Calm, Don’t Panic! Podcast, Chris Robey talks to Benny Nowell of Sevens in Boulder, Colorado about the power of belonging. Through his work with homeless teenagers, Benny has seen the extremes teens will go to find acceptance and belonging and speaks to our role as adults to help teenagers find positive places to belong. Join the conversation and find out how simple words can make a big impact! 

In this episode, Benny Nowell discusses…

  • The importance of belonging, especially during adolescence.
  • How present, engaged adults can impact a teenager.
Ask yourself…
  • Am I present and engaged when interacting with teenagers? How could I be more present?
  • Who needs to hear an encouraging word from me today?
Go ask a teen…
  • Where do you feel you belong?
  • How do you make others feel like they belong? Who could you reach out to?
Resources:

In this episode, we mentioned the following resources:

About Us:

Benny spends time on the streets building relationships and raising financial support to do SEVENS full-time. He speaks to churches and youth groups about missional living and owns Barlow’s Premium Cigars & Pipes. It is his heart and passion for the marginalized that makes SEVENS a place of rest for their street friends.

Chris Robey is the Program Director for Teen Life. Earlier in his career while working as a youth minister, Chris earned a Masters Degree in Family Life Education from Lubbock Christian University to better equip his work with teenagers and families. Chris’ career and educational opportunities have exposed him to teenagers from a variety of backgrounds. Follow him on Twitter!

Karlie Duke started working as Teen Life’s Communications Director after graduating from Abilene Christian University with a degree in Communications with a minor in Family Studies. Karlie has worked with teenagers for the past 5 years and is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram!

Have a question?
If you have a question about something you heard or just want to give us some feedback, please leave us a comment below.  We would love to hear from you!
How to Track Your Teen

How to Track Your Teen

I often get asked how parents can regulate their child’s technology use. How they can monitor the activity on their teenager’s device? What app works for limiting access to inappropriate sites? All good things to be thinking about and asking. The difficulty is the answer may surprise you.

There is not a good solution. Not if you are looking for a single, all-things-covered, monitored, and blocked appropriately app or software solution. Things are changing too fast. I remember the first time this hit me was probably 5 years ago. I was talking with some students from a local private Christian school. The discussion was about what they do during their day. One thing that came up was how they play games on their school issued MacBooks. I was interested and said, “Don’t they block that stuff?” The students laughed and said, “Of course they do but we always find a way around it.” Almost implying that was a game in itself. The challenge of finding a way to get around whatever limits had been set felt like an invitation to try to out smart the system. I have since learned that the makers of these game sites are on the side of the students here too. They constantly tweak the URL (web address) or how the page is configured so that the specific link that was blocked is now available again. And you know if gaming sites are doing this so are “adult” and other sites.

So what do you do as a parent or youth minister who is undoubtedly providing WiFi to students who see it as “fun” to try to access content that is at the very least questionable?

First, you need to be in regular conversation with your student about how they are using the internet. It is true some people see it as an entertainment device or a toy, but it is much more healthy to think of it as a tool. The only way this foundation can be built is to have open conversations with your kid. We have written about this several times. Simply go to our blog page and select the “Technology” category to find a post that strikes a cord with you.

With that foundation, it is time to take the next smartest steps. (Side note: I am assuming here that you are allowing your kids to use smart devices. One day I will write a detailed blog about the appropriate age kids should start using devices, but it is a moving target. For this conversation, let’s assume that you are dealing with teenagers. Kids under 13 should have very limited, heavily restricted access to devices.)

1. Educate yourself. This doesn’t mean you have to know everything, but find trusted resources that you can learn from. Know what information to look for about current trends and how they could be affecting your teen. I just came across a book recently called The Tech-Wise Family that I can recommend as a place to gather some ideas on how to set boundaries and establish good guidelines in your own home. I also recommend the website netsmartz.org. It has tools for schools and parents to talk to kids of all ages. The key here is finding something that guides you toward how to handle things. (If you are interested more in tech trends and future, Wired.com and CNET.com are the place to go.)

2. Use multiple tools. The problem I mentioned above that your teen will see any restrictions as a challenge to try to sneak around can be dealt with in two ways. Make sure they know you are setting up restrictions that will apply to everyone and by using multiple layers of tracking, blocking, restricting. First, set up opendns.com. It’s easy, and the great thing here is it filters at the internet so any device connected to your home Wifi (or wired if you’re old school) will be filtered no extra per-device software needed. Second, use your router’s settings to time limit or block access completely. The key here is to simply search YouTube for your router model and then look for a video of someone showing you how to set up restrictions. Not all routers have this so it may involve some financial investment but it is totally worth it to have time limits and another layer of filtering to catch things OpenDNS doesn’t. Third, use the device specific parental controls. Again, YouTube is your friend.

3. Use specialty tools. I believe the use of tracking or filtering apps should be your last line of defense. While they work, it typically gives a false sense of protection. This is because devices are constantly being updated. When you set an app up to monitor, you assume it is working but that is not guaranteed, and you don’t want to believe your child is safe and not check when they could have gone days or weeks without any filtering on their device. That being the case, I currently do not have a specific recommendation for a filtering or monitoring app. There are lots of options out there, and I recommend reading the reviews on your App Store to decide the best one for you.

4. Be creative. The bottom line here is to work this out so that your teen learns how to regulate themselves so you don’t have to be their brain forever. One suggestion I often make is to simply use the same App Store login on all devices (in my case Apple) and set my device to be the main one and download all new apps. This way I get “notified” anytime someone downloads something and can go back to where we started and engage them in relationship to talk about that specific app. Maybe this will prompt you to think of other creative ways to force a healthy conversation and teach rather than having to focus on how you can police every move. Something most of us don’t want to be doing anyway.

If you are struggling to think about how you can do this, maybe especially with your older teen because you think, “This really sounds invasive. Shouldn’t they have some privacy?” Think of it this way. My wife has full permission to get my cell phone, unlock it (because she knows the passcode) and read every single text message she wants because I have nothing to hide. For your teen, there should be no need for them to hide anything, especially the poor decisions they might be making. You, as their parent, should be the most safe person for them to talk to about everything that is going on. If they don’t know that, tell them and show them until they believe it. This will change a lot more than internet use in your family.

I truly hope this is helpful. The internet is not going away, and it is only going to “invade” our lives more. The old idea that we can just ignore or stay away is not going to be reality for my kids or yours. We must be in the conversation and diligently teach our kids how to navigate the complexities of the internet and social media.

What other ideas do you have on this? I am constantly learning and I know I can learn from you too.

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