New Series: Deal with it!

©2016 The reThink Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

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.

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New Series: Road Trip

©2016 The reThink Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

We’re Teaching This

Road trips are awesome. Whether you’re heading to the mountains with your family or driving to the beach with your friends, the idea of packing up, grabbing your favorite snacks, planning the perfect playlist, and hitting the road just sounds like an adventure. And it is! Maybe that’s because new places are always exciting, or maybe it’s just that, more than anywhere else, the unexpected seems to happen on the road. Flat tires. Detours. Surprisingly great lunch stops. Disappointingly awful gas stations. The unexpected is just part of the trip. Life works a lot like that, too. We start with a plan in mind, but things happen along the way that change our plans, change our minds, or even change our relationships. That’s when we have to decide to stick to the plan or change course. This was especially true for the apostle Paul. Long before GPS or interstates, Paul set out on a series of road trips, and just like us, he experienced some surprising, even life-changing moments on the road. As we take a look at some key turning points on Paul’s road trips, we discover that maybe the best thing that can happen on our journey is a change of direction.


Think About This

Kara Powell

“I just wish my parents would realize I’m not who I was in middle school. Their picture of me never changes—even though I’ve changed.”

Without knowing it, this 17 year-old’s complaint about her parents’ inability to appreciate her growth triggered an internal alarm in me. Since our kids—now ages 16, 14, and 10—have been infants, my husband and I have seen their unique personalities emerge.

One of our kids almost never complains—even when they should exert themselves more. Another one…well, let’s just say that no one has ever accused her of not complaining enough. One of our kids has been an introvert since she was a toddler. She has two good friends and that’s all she needs. Our other daughter is an off-the-chart extrovert. She loses count of her friends. Literally.

It’s good that I know my kids’ tendencies. It’s bad when I become so fixated on those tendencies that I don’t see how they are changing. In this series, your students are going to realize change is possible. More than that, change is inevitable as we encounter Jesus.

Our hero in these three lessons, the Apostle Paul, realized this firsthand. After Jesus got his attention, he changed from being one of the greatest persecutors of Christians to being one of the greatest builders of the church. Paul let Jesus change him.

As your students similarly let Jesus change them, they might start acting a little differently.

All of a sudden, your son is a bit less selfish and empties the dishwasher without being asked. Or your step-daughter chooses on her own to put down her phone in the car so the two of you can talk.

We hope you know your kids and how God has uniquely molded them. But we also hope you know that God’s love and grace continues to shape them into new creations with new personalities, new victories, and new struggles.

Parenting. It’s never boring.

Get connected to a wider community of parents at TheParentCue.org.


Try This

So how can we pay attention to—and support—the ways our kids are changing?

  1. Make a list of ways your son or daughter is different now than they were a year or two ago. How do you feel about those changes? Which do you applaud? Which make you anxious?
  2. Talk to your child about (some or all of) your list, making sure you talk at least three times more about the changes you applaud than those that make you anxious. And in fact, start with the good stuff. We are all more open to critique if we have first felt affirmed and understood.
  3. Ask your child two questions about what you’ve shared: What do you disagree with? And, what makes sense or feels right to you? In my experience with my own two teenagers, they are far more likely to agree with certain observations I’ve made if they first have a chance to express what they disagree with.
  4. Share with your child an area of your life that you hope can change. Invite your child to do the same.
  5. Pray that God will make that change a reality, just as He did so powerfully with Paul two thousand years ago.

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.

The Making of a King

Hey Parents! This week we launch an exciting new series in ignition: The Making of a King.

Every good story has a hero. Think about it. Superman. Luke Skywalker. Katniss Everdeen. They aren’t just random characters. They’re larger than life. Maybe they’re not perfect, but they’re exciting and they’re brave. And that’s what keeps us interested. That’s why we cheer for them.

Believe it or not, the Bible is full of heroes like that. They don’t have capes and light sabers, but they are heroes who fought giants, built arks, became spies, defeated armies, and saved the day over and over. One of the most famous ones is named David—or maybe you know him as King David. Like many others, David’s life was exciting, epic even. And at first glance it can feel like we have zero common with him. Even on our most exciting days our lives don’t exactly feel heroic. But as we take a closer look at the journey of this shepherd boy turned king, we see it wasn’t always a royal fairytale. In fact, as we discover the twists and turns of his road to the throne, his life begins to look more like ours than we ever imagined.

Remember when you were a kid and you couldn’t wait to grow up? There were probably a lot of reasons, but many of them boiled down to one idea: When I grown up, I’ll be in charge. No one can tell me what to do. It was a nice idea, but that’s not exactly our adult reality, is it? In fact, sometimes feels like growing up has left us answering to more people, not less. And what’s worse is when not all these authority figures are exactly ideal for the job. Maybe you’ve experienced…

  • The police officer who is out of line.
  • The governor you totally disagree with.
  • The boss who seems clueless.
  • The homeowners’ association president/tyrant.
  • The in-laws who think they’re in charge.

Nothing is more frustrating. And in moments like that it can be tempting to employ our go-to response. Maybe you tend to lash out, argue, or respond with harsh sarcasm. Or maybe for you it’s more tempting to ignore them or sneak around their rules. Either way, when it comes to a clash with authority, there is often more on the line than we realize. Overwhelmingly, research suggests that our teenagers’ behavior is more influenced by what they see us do than what they hear us say is best.

In his article, I Spy Daddy Giving Someone The Finger: Your kids will imitate you. Use it as a force for good, Dr. Allen Kazdin, former president of the American Psychological Association, says, “Brain research has demonstrated that there are special cells called mirror neurons. When we watch someone do something, our mirror neurons become active in the brain as if we ourselves were engaging in the same behavior we are observing.”

In other words, when watching our behavior, our students’ brains react and grow new connections that tell them to do the same.

That’s why, even with the most difficult and undeserving authority figures, it may still serve us well to treat them with respect. In doing so, our students’ brains will form connections that remind them to do the same.

This week, pay attention to your interactions with your boss, coworkers, government workers, and even your own parents or in-laws. Now, imagine what you would say if you overheard your teenager responding to people in charge the same way you do. Because, if the research is true, there’s a good chance that one day they will.

There will always be people in charge who frustrate us. That’s true for our students as well. In fact, sometimes we are the ones who frustrate them. So, modeling respect for authority is a huge deal. But that doesn’t mean we have to be stoic. This week try mentioning to your student one situation where you are frustrated by authority and how you’re dealing with it. Say something like…

Sometimes it’s hard not to give my boss piece of my mind. He can be really offensive, but I won’t let his rude tone force me to act the same way.

I really disagree with the politicians who are in charge right now. Some of their policies make no sense to me. I’ll respect their office, but I’ll vote differently next time.

It’s really hard for me to be nice to grandma when she acts like she’s in charge. I know I’m grown and I don’t have to listen to her, but I’m still doing my best to treat her well because she is my mother.

When we acknowledge our own struggles, it gives us credibility with our students.

They see that we are still fighting for relationships even when it isn’t easy. And that may just be what gives them the courage to do the same.

©2015 The reThink Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

June ignition Series: HOOKED!

Ice cream is totally my kryptonite.

When it comes to junk food, nearly everyone has a weak spot. Maybe for you, it’s the perfect salty bag of chips. Or maybe it’s beef jerky or those tiny pizza rolls. Maybe you have a sweet tooth and you just can’t pass up a little bit of ice cream, or a few cookies… or both.Whatever it is for you, we all have something that taps into our weak spot, our cravings.

When it’s around us, we just can’t seem to help ourselves.

And it’s more than just junk food, right? That “gotta-have-it-right-now” temptation can pop up in a lot of different areas. Gossip. Movies. Cheating. Temptation is everywhere.

But what are we supposed to do about it? Most of us know that giving in never makes our lives better, so what is it about the things that tempt us that makes us feel so powerless to say no? Thankfully, Scripture has a lot to say when it comes to temptation. And while there’s no promise that our it will ever
go away, we can find the courage to resist it, replace it…

and avoid getting hooked.

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.

Dating (**gasp**) in Middle School? NEW SERIES starts April 26

Relationships are a joy. But they can also be painful, devastating, all consuming and overwhelming. As parents, we know this all too well and some of us try to do everything we can to protect our children from the possible pain of breakups, emotional rollercoasters and those girls or guys we are certain are nothing but trouble. In fact, most of us joke that there’s no way our little girl/boy will date until they hit 30!

But the truth is, they will date eventually and this can be a good thing.

What isn’t a good thing is when our kids allow any one relationship to define who they are so much that when the relationship dissolves, they are left broken and feeling like they have lost a sense of who they are.

What isn’t a good thing is when our kids allow any one relationship to define who they are so much that when the relationship dissolves, they are left broken and feeling like they have lost a sense of who they are. Even worse is when they feel like a failure because of their relational mistakes. And sometimes we as parents do more to make them feel like their mistakes are insurmountable than we do to encourage them with forgiveness.

Let’s be honest. There are more than a few areas in life where a crash course would be helpful.

Relationships with the opposite sex is certainly one of those areas. For a lot of students, “dating” is something they just fall into—they think they are old enough to do it, so they do. And, whether we like it or not, whether we have prohibitions and age restrictions in place or not, often our kids talk about “dating” someone when all it amounts to is texting, saying hi in the halls, or sitting together at lunch.

Instead of pretending dating just doesn’t happen in Middle School, let’s be frank and make church a safe and appropriate place to talk about this stuff.

The Bible has a LOT to say and it’s important that we unpack this in a healthy way.

Just because they are in the thick of the most hormonal and relationally charged stage of life, doesn’t mean they have a CLUE about how to “date” well.

Just because they are in the thick of the most hormonal and relationally charged stage of life, doesn’t mean they have a CLUE about how to “date” well.They need to learn the basics. They need to understand the fundamentals. They need a crash course on relationships with the opposite sex (particularly when they “like like” someone), and we want to give it to them.

So the question we want to be answering these next couple of weeks is, if we could pick the top three things we want students to know as they prepare for this season of life where “dating”, or getting ready to date, plays such a huge role, what would those three things be?

  • What do we look for?
  • How do we know when it is time to end it—and then how do we go about ending it?
  • What do we do when we find ourselves with single status? (which, by the way, is EVERYONE’S status at 12 years old – just sayin’)

These are the basics. Our way of beginning at square one. And the hope is, with the right start, their time spent “dating” will set the course for their future relationships in the right direction.

Stay tuned as we keep more information coming your way each week on the above topics. Feel free to ask questions and even come on downstairs on a Sunday morning!