The Worst Thing to Teach a Teenager

The Worst Thing to Teach a Teenager

“Just be yourself.”
“Don’t let anyone tell you who to be.”

This is simply bad advice. This mentality puts teens on the defensive rather than empowering them to work at becoming who they can be.

If you are pushing back on this already, consider this engagement story and how it is probably different from ones you normally hear.

I asked my wife to marry me, and she said no. What did I do? I left her in a field in West Texas, hoping she would never find her way back to town.

Okay, not really, I waited. And in just a few minutes she came back over to me, apologized, and said she did want to marry me. I was so happy. I was happy because I had not asked her to marry me only because I felt like it, I asked her because I had made a decision. I wasn’t hanging my future on feelings that can change in minutes or seconds. I was grounding my future in a decision that was made after multiple conversations with many trusted advisors. That decision has proven to be the right one because I continue to make it every day.

The same is even more true for teens. We have got to stop telling them, “Just be who you are,” because they have NO IDEA who they are. They need guidance toward who they are becoming – something all of us are doing every day.

So what do we need to tell them instead? What do we tell them in our groups? If you’re still with me it’s because you care enough about teens to have a conversation that matters and invest in who they are becoming which is a beautiful thing to watch.


Seek out input and advice from the right people

The flaw in a “be who you want to be” mentality is that our perspective is extremely limited when it comes to ourselves. We compare what we know inside our head with what we see externally from people around us. This is especially detrimental to teens. They don’t have the life experience to discern the difference between character traits that shape and feelings that cause impulsive, detrimental decisions. In addition, it is nearly impossible to understand the effects or consequences of the decisions we see others make. Especially when many effects of those decisions aren’t realized for years or decades.

This is why it is so important to help teens discern who those people are. What helps a lot is to get them to think about a person they respect and trust. You may get some resistance to this but it is the exception that a teen really has no one they can turn to. This person may be a relative, coach or other role model. The key here is to help them explore who this person is and then create a plan for how they can seek input from that person.


Find something about yourself to change

We are all working each day to become a better version of ourselves. If you decide who you are as a teenager, it implies that you have arrived. This makes no sense. I don’t know anyone that is contributing at life, being a responsible adult and positively effecting the world around them who has stopped asking who they should be. Embrace change. If we encourage teenagers to decide who they are now, it gives them a false sense that the difficulties they face will be easier to deal with. The truth instead is that embracing change is what allows us to keep an open mind about how we can continually become who we should be. We need to be telling them that they will always be figuring out who they are, and that is what life is about!


Make a decision based on facts and truth, not on feelings

Deciding to be someone is a much better approach then being who you feel you should be. I don’t know about you, but I often hear my internal voice tell me how much I suck and how big of an idiot I am. If I listened to this voice, I would not feel like doing my work or caring for my family most of the time. Instead, I have to use self talk to tell myself who I want to be. One of the principles of successful people (not monetary success, simply life success) that I read about often is that they spend time each day telling themselves, often out loud, who they want to be rather than giving in to who they feel like being. This is a huge difference and one that we must encourage teens to embrace.


In a lot of ways the three ideas above can be summarized by choosing a mentality to anticipate rather than react. Living life with an “I can be whoever I want to be” perspective is a reactionary way to live. If you instead anticipate what is coming next (a class in high school, graduation, college, job, marriage, kids) you will be more likely to keep learning who you are rather than getting stuck thinking you figured it out as a teen.

These difficult discussions are why it is so important in our groups to offer the opportunity for students to discuss who the feel they should be. It is extremely important to explore these ideas. But the key is that you are exploring them. Making a decision of who you are because you feel a certain way one day and you decide to stick with that is only going to end in sadness on the day that you realize that’s not who you really wanted to be. If you decide to instead be constantly changing and becoming a better you, not only do you embrace the changes as they come, but you make the world around you a better place because you are willing to adapt and mold in a way that factors in all the input you receive.

So what’s next? How do we shift this cultural norm of encouraging people to “just be yourself” and instead actually help each other to become a better version of ourselves every day?

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 4, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
I Waited at the DMV and Didn’t Die

I Waited at the DMV and Didn’t Die

A few months back, I was at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) renewing the registration on our mini-van. I am going to guess that brings up some anxiety or at least frustration for more than half of you reading this. It does for me too. In fact, when I went to begin the process and walked into a full house, I almost walked out and chanced getting a ticket because I hear so many people talk about how terrible it is to sit there and wait. But I did it anyway. I took a number 476 (they were on 432, or something like that) and sat down to wait thinking, “I could pass the time checking email or reading on my phone.” The thing is, I was only able to do that part of the time because an interesting thing happened.


Before I get to that let me just say, I am not recommending going and hanging out in places like the DMV that you don’t need to go to. I am not suggesting that you submit yourself to unnecessary frustration or stress. In the culture I am surrounded by, it tends to be the case that people (including me) work very hard to remove any stress or anxiety, at times removing the opportunity to learn something or grow in some way.


You see the truth is, it was the last week of the month so of course the DMV would be busy. I had waited and if I waited any longer I would run the risk of being pulled over and dealing with the hassle of a ticket – well actually it was my wife’s van so she would endure the trouble…


I had to start here to gain anything. I had to think through what was the less frustrating situation. The truth is, it had been a long time since I sat at the DMV so I really had no gauge for how much I would hate it. I only thought I would. So it was worth sitting and seeing what would happen.


As I said, I pulled out my phone and began reading. First my daily Bible reading, then a blog I had seen earlier that morning, then some emails, and I responded to a few. As I sat though, I watched people get up as their number was called and other people, like me, look at their number to see how much longer.


How long could this take? But in the middle of it all, I observed some people too. People that made me think about things in my life and about things I appreciate. Thoughts that I could have had a lot of places but I because I had chosen to stay, I was having them here.


Behind me and a little to my left sat a girl and her dad. I had noticed them but hadn’t paid much attention. Because I am a dad too, I noticed that the dad had gotten up to go ask a question. While he was gone, another man came down the aisle seeing the open seat. I was about ready to jump in and help the little girl tell him that seat was taken, but I was too late. “My dad’s sitting there,” she informed the stranger. “Oh, he is?” came the reply. “Yes!” she said confidently. I smiled and thought about how I would be proud of my kid holding my seat, not letting a stranger sit by them and about how I imagine that parent probably had a good conversation with that little girl for her to have that confidence and know to tell someone not to sit down. It made me think about how all the time I am investing in my kids is not wasted. I may not always see the fruit of what my wife and I are teaching them, but someone will.


I also noticed an older couple there together. I have no idea how old or how long they had been married, but I noticed that they did not seem to be too worried about how long it was taking. They were simply enjoying each other’s company and talking about who knows what back home. Maybe they were talking about which plants needed watering when they got back home, or if they locked the gate or what their grandkids are up to. Whatever their conversation, it seemed that they enjoyed just being together. They were not frustrated or stressed to be spending that afternoon together at the DMV and it got me thinking…


I thought about what it takes to be happily married for a long time. I wondered if they had been through hard things and made it; if they reminisced about how amazing it was that they were still together but how thankful they are that they did those hard things. I thought about what things I am doing well to care for my wife and what things I need to work on or start doing.


Did sitting at the DMV make me think those things? No, but it gave me the space to think about them because I decided to stay and not to be distracted by the frustration and anxiety it could have caused.


Finally, I noticed a man that was getting his renewal or registering a new vehicle at the counter. He was having a pleasant exchange with the lady behind the counter until he realized he had forgotten something. He didn’t get belligerent or upset, but he got very sad. I could tell because his head dropped and a frown formed as he thought about the weight of waiting again in those steel seats for his new number to be called, by now maybe in the 500’s. I noticed because I had felt that same thing a couple of times, maybe at the DMV or maybe at a grocery store. A time when I thought I was finished and figured out I needed to go get something I had forgotten. Then something changed. The lady had told him if he went and got what he needed from the car, he could simply come back to her window and, even if someone was there, she would help him finish his transaction. On one hand, this could have been frustrating thinking about how that meant it would take longer to get to my number because he was cutting back in line. But instead, I understood because this had happened to me and I knew the relief that came when I was told I was not going to have to wait another hour but rather could complete my transaction and leave with the help of that kind person behind the desk.


So why this post, why share about spending time at the DMV? My hope is that the next time you are in a situation you’d rather not be in, you think about what you can learn or what you can notice or what you can think about that will help shape your future for the better. Whether it is traffic, the longest grocery line ever, the DMV or the doctor’s waiting room (because you have to wait there since that is what it is called), maybe there is something else we can all do besides hate these situations. Maybe we can find something in them, and it can help us shape our own life for the better and live a better story because of stressful times – not in spite of them.
What’s a time you have experienced something stressful but gotten something out of it? Share it with us so we can learn too.
Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 4, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.
The “Other” Way to Get Unstuck

The “Other” Way to Get Unstuck

I talk to a lot of teens that feel stuck. I talk to more than twice as many parents who also feel stuck in whatever situation they are in. Maybe for the teen, it is the feeling that their worst class will never end, that they will never get out of their parents house or that the reputation they have at school will never go away. For the parents, perhaps it’s that their teen will never get it, that they cannot see an end to the drama/complaining/poor decision making.
In both of these instances, the people involved feel stuck. The sense is that they don’t know how to get away from the hurt, pain or discomfort they feel. Most of the time, they want to remove the pain completely or move away from it themselves.
This is a normal human reaction. Both to experience a feeling of being stuck and a desire to remove that feeling. If you Google “how to get unstuck,” you can find a lot of answers (and some really good ones I might add). Answers like meditation, sleep, refocusing, getting outside, etc to get unstuck. I even read about “5 Steps to Get Unstuck” on the Huffington Post and “16 Ways to Get Unstuck” on Tiny Budda just this week. Both offered some great ideas that could be very effective. But I think these and many others “get unstuck” offerings miss one way that can help many of us stuck in the muck.


Consider these times when you might find yourself stuck:
  1. You are dealing with a family member who isn’t responding to the help you are offering. You know exactly what help they need, but they are unwilling or unable to accept it.
  2. Your teen has been dealing with a substance use issue for 3 years and are “stuck” in a cycle that makes your head spin. If only they would listen to you, they could get free.
  3. The arguments with your spouse or loved one feel like they repeat every 48 hours. You are sick of being stuck dealing with them and know if you could find a way out, you wouldn’t have to deal with this any more.
I want to offer you an alternative solution.
What if the answer to getting unstuck involved going through the pain, not only getting rid of it? What if you chose to face the difficulty head-on, opening your mind to the idea that maybe the reason you are still here is because you haven’t yet learned all you can from the situation?
I listened to a podcast from Entreleadership with Jesse Itzier who started and is owner of the Atlanta Hawks. In many peoples minds, Itzier is not someone who gets “stuck.” Or maybe people just think that if they were in his shoes, there is no way they could feel stuck. But Jesse Itzier has recently released Living with a Seal, a book that’s all about getting unstuck from a successful routine! He tells the story of how he met a Navy Seal who ran a 24 hour race, and by the time he finished, every small bone in his feet was broken, and he was in kidney failure. Itzeir was so impressed, he said that he needed to learn the mental toughness this guy had.
Here is what I am suggesting: maybe instead of trying to remove or run away from the pain every time we experience a little discomfort (I’m not suggesting hurting yourself on purpose of course), we could instead decide to push through the pain.
For many of us, the times we have grown the most are the times we pushed ourselves through something we didn’t think was possible – climbing a mountain, running a Marathon, bungee jumping. I am simply wondering if the same can be true when we feel stuck. I think there are times that the answer is, “Hang in there because when you get through this, you will realize that you can face much more than you ever thought possible.”
Why do we stay stuck?
Have you asked yourself this question? What if the answer is because we haven’t experienced something hard enough yet?


Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 4, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.