New Series: Deal with it!

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We’re Teaching This…

So what’s trending on Netflix this week? Maybe TV isn’t your thing, but I’ll bet you’ve got a time vortex. Maybe yours is a gaming system.

You log on for just a few minutes and then, somehow it’s midnight.

Maybe you throw on headphones and just space out listening to Spotify, or maybe you stare at your phone and scroll without even really looking at what people post. We all have a favorite distraction—something we get lost in. And while there’s nothing wrong with taking a break, you’ve probably also discovered that it’s more tempting to reach for something fun when you’re facing something that isn’t.

We all have a tendency to avoid something difficult by doing something easy.

Or we escape something painful by running toward something that feels good. Or we hide something that hurts by pretending it isn’t there. But maybe you’ve also noticed that none of these strategies really work. In fact, sometimes our favorite escapes can leave us feeling more stuck than before.

In this series we’ll look at three ways we’re all tempted to skip out on the real life that God has for us. As we do, you may just find God’s inviting you to stop avoiding it, escaping it, or hiding it and just . . . deal with it!

Think About This…

B y  D r .  C h i n w é  W i l l i a m s

We’ve all been there. We’ve all encountered struggles that felt bigger than us. And we all develop our own ways of managing emotional pain, shame, and regret. When faced with difficult circumstances, it’s very normal to look for ways to cope. Over the years, parents have verbalized their uncertainty regarding how best to assist their teen as they navigate the ups and downs of life. But there’s no simple response. Quite frankly, as a therapist who frequently works with adolescents, I get it.

Being a teen today is tough.

Teens face increasing expectations: managing multiple schedules, demanding academic loads, and competitive extracurricular activities. And above all, discovering who they are and how they fit in with their peer group and the larger world. And all of these expectations can and do cause internal pressure. Some teens are able to successfully navigate these waters. Others may flail or buckle under the pressure.

It’s a normal human experience to want to escape reality.

It’s actually a great idea to take a break and decompress for a few hours in order to allow your brain to reboot and refocus. Attending a concert with friends, listening to music, going for a hike, and laughing at a hilarious video are examples of healthy ways to take your mind off of a stressful day.

But what happens when these distractions morph into things that are not so healthy? Or are, perhaps, even destructive?

Harmless distractions often lead to prolonged engagement with those things, like video gaming, online shopping, hours on Instagram or Snapchat, and Netflix binge-watching. These escapes wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t coincide with finals week. And then there are the more dangerous situations, like when a teen begins experimenting with drugs, alcohol, and sex to numb complicated feelings. When any of these behaviors become a way to DISTRACT, NUMB, or AVOID facing hard circumstances or prevent others from seeing our real selves, it can lead to feeling stuck and disconnected, which can cause us to spiral into more destructive behavior.

What’s the remedy when our teens feel stuck or disconnected?

Engagement. As a therapist, I love introducing my teenage clients to creative strategies that will help them address the problems that seem insurmountable. Yes, that sometimes means embracing a new challenge or doing something they dislike—like confronting the real issues. But the more we can teach our children to deal with (and not run away from) life’s challenges, the better they will realize their own unique capabilities, which fosters resilience and a sense of autonomy.

A parent’s task in helping avoidant teens is further complicated by the contradictory impulses of teens. They want us around, and at the same time, want us to go far away. The research is, however, clear. Parents are powerful pillars of influence in their teens’ lives!

Below are five ways that will help you recognize when your teen may be feeling stuck, as well as ways you can help them get unstuck.

  1. Watch for warning signs. Some “stuck” teens will display difficulty concentrating and low motivation. They may be irritable, negative, easily frustrated, or prone to outbursts. Some overachieving “stuck” teens may be highly sensitive to criticism and begin to withdraw from family and friends. Since some of these signs are a part of normal adolescent development, it’s important to note what appears to be a departure from your teen’s typical pattern of behavior.
  2. Initiate the conversation. Demonstrate casual interest by asking questions and reflecting on what you’ve heard. Teens can tell the difference between questions that show interest and ones that simply appear nosy. Be present but not intrusive. One conversation starter could be: “It’s normal to feel overwhelmed. I know that you want to do well (in school/sports/making friends), so I’m sure that you might feel some pressure at times. You’re not alone. I’m here if you ever want to talk about it.” Your teen may not open up initially. The key, though, is making yourself available for when they’re ready.
  3. Be open. Sharing your own struggles with distractions and avoidance may help your teen better cope with their own situations. For many parents the thought of disclosing their own teenage antics is a nightmarish proposition. However, research suggests that parents who have an open, warm, and nurturing relationship with their children can help them buffer stresses that can otherwise be destructive. Your teen may not show deep interest or ask many questions. Don’t worry . . . they are listening.
  4. Stay tuned in. As a therapist, I can’t emphasize how important it is to plug in to your teen. What does that mean? Get to know their musical tastes, favorite artists, and even purchases. Know the names of their friends and their enemies. Regarding social media, I’m an advocate of intermittent parental monitoring. This one is tricky—teens also need some degree of privacy—but it’s a parent’s responsibility to know what’s going on. The content you discover may clue you in to ways to better connect with your child, or it may alert you to signs of stress. As parents, we must plug in to this important aspect of teen social life. Don’t tell my teens I said that.
  5. Seek Professional help. Part of our job as parents is to help our children find resources to be successful. Those could include a school counselor, therapist, or trusted church leader. Remember that there are many avoidant behaviors that are simply a part of adolescence. It’s helpful to consult with a professional who can assess the severity and offer assistance. One technique that I like to teach is “mindfulness”—it’s is ideal for decreasing distressful thoughts. The ability to disrupt a cycle of negative thinking is crucial for optimal mental health and can help teens to plug in, to get “unstuck.” Whether or not they tell you or show you, your teen values your engagement. What are some ways that you can engage with your teen this week?

Dr. Chinwé Williams is a licensed counselor in Roswell, GA. For more from Dr. Williams and other resources for parents of teenagers, visit TheParentCue.

Try This…

Whether your teenager is facing a challenge right now or whether you just know they will in the future, one thing we can all do to help our students cope with challenges is to model the way.

We can show them what it looks like to face a challenge instead of avoiding it.

Think about one area where you’re tempted to avoid or escape instead of “dealing” with it. Maybe you’d rather shop online than think about work. Or maybe work is the escape for a complicated situation at home. Maybe it’s easier to scroll through the news than to look at your budget. It doesn’t have to be something serious or dangerous—just one way you are personally tempted to put off dealing with real life. This week, share that with your teenager.

Maybe in the car you say . . .

  • Hey, you’re not going to believe this, but I just deleted the Facebook app from my phone. I would catch myself scrolling every time I was mad just to avoid having a conversation.
  • Hey, I know this probably sounds crazy to you, but I just realized I’ve been staying late at work because it means I won’t have time to go to the gym. Today I’m setting an alarm to leave on time so I can work out.
  • Hey, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I have a bad habit of _______ to avoid dealing with _______. So I’ve decided to start working on that by setting up an appointment with a mentor/counselor/doctor/coach.

It may feel a little awkward to admit feeling stuck in front of your teenager, but when you do, you’re giving them the tools and the courage to move forward in whatever they’re facing.

New Series: VIVID

As the parent of a student, you know the disconnect that often occurs between what teenagers say they believe and the way they live throughout their lives. Adolescents, like all Christ-followers, fight the constant temptation of falling into the trap of saying one thing while doing another. The Book of James clearly addresses this issue.

James puts forth a simple idea: our actions should match our beliefs. This is what it means to live a vivid faith through the power of the Holy Spirit.

In light of this, we are really excited to be launching a new series this week in ignition.  We’ll be digging into the book of James rooted in a study from youthministry360 entitled Vivid: A 6-lesson Study on the Book of James. This study will challenge students to evaluate their faith and their actions, to identify where the two don’t match up, and to make the necessary changes to live a life of a vivid faith. During the next six weeks your child will learn about:

  • the struggle with sin that lives in every Christ-follower
  • the danger of showing favoritism to those who are easy to like
  • the importance of spiritual fruit in our lives
  • the power of words
  • the futility of trying to love the world and God
  • the importance of submitting to God’s leadership

You’ll be receiving follow-up reminders from me as we teach these topics. We want to equip you with overviews of what we talked about as well as some follow-up suggestions you and your student might use to continue this important conversation.

We want to be known as a student ministry who leads students to live a vivid faith, standing as a powerful witness to a watching world.

Our students have immeasurable influence and present-day potential. Let’s unleash them as brilliant lights into this dark and hurting world!

New Year…New Series

Have you ever been part of two very different groups? Maybe you go to a different school or you’re in different classes than the people in your neighborhood. So you’re a part of both groups. Or maybe you play on a different sports team than all of your friends. So after practice hang out with the team but on the weekends, you hang out with completely different people. When that happens, we feel like we’re from one world and living in another. We’re torn.

And if we’re honest, sometimes going to church or being a Christian can make us feel that way too.

We go to church and what we hear makes sense. We see people living out their faith and it looks perfectly normal, maybe even fun.

But what looks good on Sunday doesn’t always feel comfortable on Monday.

Back in the everyday world, living as followers of Jesus can make us feel like we’re from another planet. But does it have to be that way? And what does it look like to live for God in a culture that doesn’t necessarily think the same way? Believe it or not, these aren’t 21st century questions. Long ago, the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church at Philippi as they figured out how to navigate their faith and culture at the same time. As we spend the next few weeks talking about what he said, we may find that Paul’s advice to the Philippians is just as relevant for us as we learn to manage the tension and live in a way that is out of this world.

New series: Entourage! Who are their peeps

When we hear the word entourage, most of us think of celebrities walking the streets of Beverly Hills, barking orders at their “people”—people that work for them or just get paid to hang out with them. By definition, an entourage is a group of people attending or surrounding an important person. Even if we don’t feel important, most of us want at least a handful of people who like to hang around us—people who laugh at our jokes, go to the movies with us, and simply have our back. King David, his son Absalom, and his grandson Rehoboam were no different. As royals, each had an entourage and through their experiences we see that the choices we make with those around us can change everything.

A quick internet search reveals the worries many parents feel when it comes to their teen’s friends. “How to spot a bully”. “How to spot a bad influence”. “How to spot the wrong crowd”. There is plenty to worry about when it comes to your child’s friends. But what if you have more influence than you think? What if you were able to not only help your teen choose friends, but to directly influence the life choices those friends make?

More and more studies say you can.

A study published in the archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine suggests that teens with friends who have strict parents are less likely to binge drink and make other poor life choices. Check more out here.

Think about that. The students in this study were most influenced by their friends’ parents, not just their friends. In fact, you probably don’t need a lot of research to know this. Have you ever heard someone say, “She is like a second mother to me”. Probably so. Many of us grew up with at least one set of friend’s parents who influenced us. Part of maturing is beginning to listen to multiple voices, multiple adult influences. As parents we have an incredible opportunity to speak into our own children’s lives by using our influence to guide their friends.

Having influence on your child’s friends doesn’t mean you have to be the “cool one”.

It doesn’t mean you have to host or allow parties, throw caution to the wind, and be their best buddy. It also doesn’t mean you have to legally adopt them or have them over every night of the week. Having influence can be as simple as taking one step toward including a friend in your normal family plans.

    • Invite them in. Invite your teen’s friends to spend time at your house. You don’t have to do anything special or make a five star dinner. For a lot of students, the concept of a normal (even boring) family dinner is almost unimaginable. Simply being in a home with someone other than their own parents can offer students a different perspective on things like marriage, work, family, and decision-making. So don’t feel the need to put on a show or have the most fun house on the block. Just allow someone else to be a part of your family once in a while. You may have more impact than you think.
  • Invest in them. Invest time and energy in your teen’s friends. Talk with them, ask questions, and listen. Teens are often more likely to open up to other teens’ parents than their own. Do you know how to fix a car or bake a cake? Can you fish, play tennis, or scrapbook? Offer to show them! Sometimes the best conversations take place while working on something else. Chances are they’ll appreciate the new skill and your own student is more likely to join in if their friends are involved.

Everyone wants their teen to be wise and intentional when it comes to friends. And the best way to teach that skill is to model it. Think about the friends your teen already spends time around.

How intentional are you about investing time in those people?

Are you using your influence to help that person in any way? Is there one teen you could invite to dinner, to hang out, or to be helpful? Use the boxes below to help you figure out how you can be intentional with your teen’s friends.

group of boxes

This series will take us through the rest of May. Feel free to stop in! Also, feel free to ask me questions, challenge me, or add your two cents to the conversation!

Get connected to a wider community of parents at www.orangeparents.org.

February series: Judgement Call

When was the last time you had to make a tough call?

Was it when deciding what to eat for lunch? To drink Coke or Pepsi? Go to the gym or skip it? The truth is, we make judgment calls all day long, from what we watch on TV or who we hang out with to more complicated decisions like whether to attend a party or stick with a tough friendship. And, in every decision, we’re forced to ask the question, “Which option is better?”

The problem is, our natural tendency to judge leaks into places it shouldn’t—like our relationships.

We start thinking of people as options and deciding which ones are better or worse. Many of us are even tempted to make those judgments about ourselves. Unfortunately, most of the time, we make decisions about people without all the facts. We don’t know someone’s whole story, their whole situation, or their whole potential. We miss the big picture. Maybe that’s why, in the Bible, God makes it super clear:

Judgment is His call. Not ours.

In this series, we’ll be taking a closer look at three individuals in the Bible and how they faced judgement. The nameless woman caught in a compromising situation (um, adultery), Rahab and Paul all wrestled with judgement in one form or another: judgement by the holier-than-thous, by a reputation, and by their own personal standards of perfection.

Their stories speak to the heart of why it’s so easy to judge, and so dangerous.

So, join us starting February 1st as we work through this nasty mess of judgement.

It could be the most freeing thing you hear all year!

This Sunday: What’s on your mind?

I am so excited for this Sunday!

Why? Because the students are writing the message. Ok – well, SORT OF. This week is one of the weeks when we set aside the morning to talk through questions submitted by students!

And can I just say…these questions are incredible!

I’m so grateful to work with an amazing team of people to help pull together research and answers… or attempts at answers. How about a sampling, so you know what I mean…

  1. Just because you memorize verse and read the bible and pray, does that mean you’re faithful?
  2. What do you do when you can’t seem to connect with God?
  3. What happens directly after you die?
  4. How do you know if God knows you?
  5. What does eternity mean to you?
  6. How do I strengthen my relationship with God?
  7. What does the bible say about cussing and how to deal with it?
  8. Are demons real?
  9. How do I believe in myself?

And many MANY more.

So – do NOT miss this week in ignition (9:15am and 11:00am on Sunday). It will be amazing!

This Sunday: BRING THE UGLY!

It has happened to all of us.

Someone (who should remain nameless) give us a gift that brings the ugly to a whole new level. Maybe it’s a shirt that looks like a horse threw up on it. Maybe a sweater fit for your cat. Maybe a dress that you wouldn’t put on your dog. Maybe I’ve made enough animal references…

Well, this Sunday is your chance to wear it PROUDLY.

Come to the 11am service for a morning of silly games, hilarious ugliness, and an inspiring message about how to turn that ugly into amazing. Breakfast is on me.

It’s (almost) 2015 y’all!

Let’s look forward to the new year with a hope for a new hope and a new you (and me).