Ep. 58: Talking With Teens About Connection

Ep. 58: Talking With Teens About Connection

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Summer is a great time to start conversations with your teen! Use the extra time with them while they are home to get curious and ask open-ended questions.

To help, we’ve designed this series to be a quick, fun way to get everyone talking. Listen together with your teen, or by yourself. You might be surprised at how willing teenagers are to talk when they get started!

In episode 58, Chris and Karlie discuss social connections and how to talk with teens about how connected they feel.

How close do you feel to other people?

Talk through these with your teen after this podcast ends!

  • Who do you feel close to?
  • What could you do to feel closer to the people in your life?
  • What can I do to better connect with you?
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!
About Us:
Chris Robey

Chris Robey


Chris has worked with teens from a variety of backgrounds for over a decade. He has a desire to help teenagers make good choices while also giving their families tools to communicate more effectively as choices are made.

Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Director of Communications

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and has always had a heart for teenagers and the vulnerable life stage they are in. She has a wealth of experience to share from working with teens in ministry and leading support groups.

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If you’re present, they will come.

If you’re present, they will come.

In March of 2020, I knew the names of a lot of my neighbors. We’d lived in our house for over 4 years, and we’d always walked a lot around our neighborhood. We have the kind of neighborhood where a lot of people sit on their front porch or stop us to ask if the boys would like to pet their dog. So, we probably knew the names of a few people on every street- in a casual, hello and goodbye sort of way.

I knew the names of my immediate neighbors but rarely saw them for more than a few minutes at a time.

And then suddenly, we were home. And all we had to do was walk. As a consequence, we were always outside, and very often, if we weren’t walking, we were camped out in our garage or on our driveway.

If anyone appeared in our alleyway for any reason, we were ready with enthusiastic hellos and nothing but time.

It didn’t happen overnight.

But in a long series of waves and hellos, we made friends. They brought their vacation pictures from 20 years ago to show us the time they were in Rome. We traded halves of cakes, loaves of bread, and cups of sugar.

We watched the people on our street change and new people arrived. There we were with baked goods and enthusiastic hellos, and more to the point, availability.

We don’t know everyone the same, but our relationships are deeper. More meaningful. More connected.

Somewhere in the middle, people went back to the office or back to restaurants and stores, but they also started coming over and cracking the front door to call in when they knew we were home. People who have little in common with us except for location became friends.

I tell you this story to say this:

You may feel like you have nothing in common with teens. Like they don’t want you around or don’t want to talk. But the number one quality that will draw them in and keep them coming back is availability.

Your un-pressured, unhurried, undivided presence.

It may seem impossible for any number of reasons. But if you build it, they will come.

Make tea, grab a book, and wait where they will be, ready with an enthusiastic hello and nothing but time.

Our CEO, Chris Robey, was talking about tech breaks recently. One day, he was walking into a support group he was leading when he realized he had left his phone in his car by accident. He usually set his phone to “do not disturb”. However, he found that he was more present and a better listener without it. He wasn’t wondering whether he needed to answer a text or how much time they had left. In short, he was more available, physically and mentally.

After that group, he started leaving his phone on purpose. If it’s as easy as removing the distraction, why not?

A huge part of availability is removing distractions and showing up!

Here are a few tips for setting the stage:

  • Set aside time every day that you aren’t looking at your phone.
  • Don’t take it personally if it seems like they don’t have time or don’t care. It definitely matters to them, but sometimes, at the moment, they don’t recognize it.
  • Be wherever your teen will find you. Pick a common area where you can read a book, fold laundry, do a crossword puzzle, or do anything else that doesn’t require a screen. If you aren’t present, it’s harder to be available. As a bonus, slowing down sets a great example and is good for your mental health.
  • Create opportunity. Invite your teen to do something they enjoy regularly. Ask them for help with something you don’t know how to do. Ask them to go for a walk around the block. If you continue to seek them out, they are more likely to do the same.
  • Be emotionally present. When appropriate, talk about your feelings and ask them about theirs. Get curious about what makes them tick.
  • Be shock-proof no matter what. You might not get a second chance if they don’t feel like they can trust you with hard things.

​If you haven’t been readily available before now, creating trust will take time. But trust me, if you stay consistent, they will come.

Consider the time you spend now on availability an investment in your relationship. Over the long term, the payoff is most likely better than you expect it will be!

Kelly Fann

Kelly Fann

Digital Media Manager

Kelly has lived in three countries and worked with teens across the world, encouraging them to pursue their passions and to be kind. She’s been refining messages and telling stories for brands and non-profits since 2009.

Gen Z – The Lonely Generation

Gen Z – The Lonely Generation

Our teenagers (Generation Z) are the most connected generation, but they are also the loneliest. Seems contradictory, doesn’t it?

As a Millennial, my early teenage years were defined by wired phone calls, brick cell phones, and dial-up internet. I was a teenager when the iPhone first came on the scene and had my first phone with internet my Freshman year of college. I got Facebook in High School. Instagram gained popularity a few years later. Basically, technology and social media was rapidly changing, but I didn’t have to carry it around with me 24/7 like our current teenagers.

Today’s teens are even more connected than ever with Google, Instagram, Snapchat, FaceTime, TikTok, and messages at their fingertips. But let’s take a look at what it means for our teens who are growing up in a world that never turns off…

In Michele Borba’s book Thrivers, she states the following:
“Welcome to the “running on empty” generation…They are more inclusive and open-minded…They’re well educated with high aspirations for college and their future. But they’re also less happy and more stressed, lonely, depressed, and suicidal when compared with any previous generation – and those descriptions were identified prior to COVID-19 and all the resulting anxiety it produced.”

That is not a fun statement to read, and we are going to break down some more characteristics of Gen Z in Episode 43 of the Teen Life Podcast. Be sure to subscribe in your favorite podcast app or sign up to receive notifications so you won’t miss it! For now, let me give a couple of suggestions for how we can combat the loneliness of this generation.

Listen to understand.
One student in Thrivers said, “We hide our anxiety…It doesn’t work telling our parents because they don’t understand what it’s like to be a kid.” I know that it is easy to compare our teenage experiences with what teens are currently going through, but it isn’t the same. They are living in a world that is completely different from the one you grew up in.

Instead of minimizing their experiences, use this as a chance to listen and ask good questions! Be curious. Resist the urge to give advice if all they are looking for is an empathetic ear.

Model imperfection and boundaries.
A piece of nearly every day is posted online now, and our teens feel the pressure to be “picture-perfect” at all times. The “comparison game” is not a new problem, but now our teens are comparing their worst to the highlight reel of others. Pictures are filtered and feeds are full of celebrities and influencers.

This might seem silly, but make sure that teens know that they are valuable just as they are. They don’t need to filter or fake their life to enjoy it. Pictures and videos do a great job of capturing moments, but make sure you put your phone away sometimes to be fully in the moment! On the other hand, take the picture even if you don’t look your best. Model healthy boundaries and self-esteem with how you interact with social media.

Set aside time to connect.
What combats loneliness better than human connection? Life can get busy but scheduling regular time to connect with your teen can make a huge difference! In a recent podcast episode with my dad, Chris Hatchett, we talked about how he has intentionally made time for me from a young age. The main way he did that while I was in High School was to take me to lunch every week (every teen loves free food!).

Here are some other ways to be intentional with your connection:
• Talk in the car to or from school
• Grab breakfast before school
• Stop by a coffee shop on the weekends
• Do something special on their birthday – bring lunch to school or take them out
• Ride home together from games
• Schedule a meal together weekly or monthly
• Go shopping to find a new outfit
• Do a hobby together – golf, reading, building something, concert, movies, etc.

Teenagers will benefit from your wisdom and advice, but they will thrive when they feel connected and accepted by you! Let’s change the narrative for this generation and bring more connection than loneliness.

Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Director of Communications

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and has always had a heart for teenagers and the vulnerable life stage they are in. She has a wealth of experience to share from working with teens in ministry and leading support groups.

5 Ways to Connect with a Teen

5 Ways to Connect with a Teen

In my Teen Life Support Group last semester, I had a student who seemingly did not want to be there. She refused to talk. She crossed her arms. She kept her head down. After the first week, we talked to her and said that she didn’t have to talk but needed to participate as a member of the group. She reluctantly did the activities, but still never spoke a word.

A few weeks later, another student asked about my family. I explained that my parents live in Alabama, and I don’t see them very often because of the distance. Immediately, my standoffish student spoke. “Wait, you’re from Alabama? Me too.” In that moment, we had created a connection.

Connection. It sounds so easy, right? But how often do we strive to achieve it and come up short? Sometimes, finding a commonality is like finding a needle in a haystack. Some days I wonder if I have anything at all in common with the teens I’m with. Some days I wonder if they even want to connect with me at all.

In their book, The Connected Child, Dr. Karyn Purvis, Dr. David Cross, and Wendy Sunshine walk through a series of connecting principals to help us as parents, teachers, youth ministers, or friends of young people who are struggling and yet seem to reject our help. In order to connect, we have to engage with students. Here are five of their strategies:


  1. Behavioral Matching: Reflect your student’s behavior or physical position. This increases their ability to feel safe. It’s less complicated than it seems. When my daughter wants to talk at night, I lay down next her instead of standing over her.  If my smaller child wants to play with cars on the floor, I sit on the floor as well. Find the natural comfort behavior for your teen and match it without even mentioning it.


  1. Playful Engagement: Be playful in your conversations. We adults often want to get to the point, address the problem, and fix it. But they often need us to break the ice. We do that by showing that we can have fun. When my teen doesn’t want to do something they deem embarrassing, I do it first. If they are frustrated, say “Whoa? I didn’t know you were the boss!” Let them know they are safe even in disagreements. You can have a deeper conversation once there is more connection.


  1. Create Eye ContactWe live in a world where students don’t look at each other. They look at screens. But the eyes are powerful.  Look your students in the eyes and they will know they are cared for. As parents, how often do we yell down the hall or up the stairs. How would things change if we spent more time looking in our teenagers’ eyes?


  1. Share Healthy Touch: Give a hug. Pat them on the back. Hold their hand. Play with their hair. If you aren’t sure if it’s ok, ask permission. Students often want to know you care, and you don’t have to use words to show up.


  1. Be aware of your tone of voiceAre you loud? Are you frustrated? Are you talking quickly or slowly? Do you even know? You can start and end a conversation just by using your tone. You also can be authoritative without being demeaning or unkind.


Connecting through engagement is hard, but as Dr. Karyn Purvis says, “When you connect to the heart of a child, everything is possible.”

My student from Alabama? After she learned we were from the same place, everything shifted. That tiny connection was all it took to help make our group safe for her. She was able to talk through some significant things happening at her home all because of connection.  

A week after group ended, the interventionist stopped me in the hall.  She raved about how this girl was totally different than she was 8 weeks before. What a powerful lesson about the potential power that can be unleashed with just a little connection!


Beth Nichols

Beth Nichols

Program Director

With her background in social work and experience as a mom of 4, Beth’s perspective is invaluable. She has had the opportunity in both her personal and professional life to encounter youth from a variety of situations.

A Common Sense Intervention That Saves Lives

A Common Sense Intervention That Saves Lives

Growing up in a rather sheltered environment and experiencing the “military brat” existence of moving every 3-4 years, I never really understood or heard a lot about mental health issues amongst my peers as a teenager. We didn’t watch a ton of TV or movies, and most of the music I listened to was pretty tame compared to what was out there at the time. Plus, when you move a lot, most of your time involves getting to know new people – not necessarily understanding the challenges and stresses facing your friends. I didn’t really understand what depression or anxiety looked like, nor really cared much to talk about it. I was too busy trying to keep up and worrying about myself. 

It wasn’t until I started learning how to play guitar that I heard much at all about depression and suicide. There was a ’90s Christian band called “Caedmon’s Call” that featured a dark (by Christian music standards) song called “Center Aisle” lamenting a friend’s suicide. I remember being enamored by the complexity of the chords as I was learning guitar, but I was more struck by the intense emotions of the chorus line:

 “What crimes have you committed, demanding such a penance?

Could have waited for five more minutes and a cry for help.” 

This was the first time I had ever considered that suicide could become an option for a person feeling distraught or out of options. 

It made me wonder if any of my friends had ever considered suicide as an option. While I have experienced seasonal depression, I haven’t ever gotten to the point where I wanted to end it all. But, the more I learned, the more I understood the dark places people go to when they feel there are no other options available. 

The World Health Organization estimates suicide as the second leading cause of death of people 15-19 years of age. As someone who works with and loves teenagers, that isn’t just maddening – it’s a mandate for us to take action. For those so young in life to think there is nothing else to live for is an indictment on so many things. But instead of pointing fingers, let’s look at what could be some very promising research with a surprisingly simple conclusion.

In a recent JAMA Psychiatry article, research was outlined on a study of 448 adolescents admitted to a psychiatric hospital for suicidal thoughts and tendencies. Within that group, they formed a control group (this group received no treatment other than hospitalization) and a treatment group. The treatment group was asked to identify four adults in their lives that they perceived love and support from moving forward. Those four adults were then trained in suicide education and support measures and asked to check in on the teens after they left the hospital. These adults also received coaching and support from the study writers throughout the process. 

After ten years, the study checked back in on the control and treatment groups and while statistically small, the results were impressive. The control group had 13 deaths while the treatment group only had two. When you break the numbers down, even conservatively, the death rate drops by over 50 percent! 

I have to stress again that the numbers are way too small to draw any definitive conclusions, but for me it speaks to something incredibly important about our (yours and mine) work with teenagers – ADULTS MATTER

I think this study important for the following reasons:

  1. The students selected the supportive adults
    • It is so easy to feel alone as you struggle through depression and suicidal thoughts. To be prompted to identify people who care in and of itself is a healing exercise. And by selecting these adults, a connection is made that cannot be easily broken. 
  2. The adults accept the invitation
    • No one is forcing these adults to participate. But, if a struggling teen asked you to be a part of their recovery, wouldn’t you help? 
  3. The adults learned how to support the teenager
    • So many adults feel like they know what is best for a teenager. We were teenagers once, right? But a learner is a leader in this case. The presence of an adult who is willing to do what it takes to support the struggling teenager has significant influence. 

To me this isn’t just about suicide, though if it saved more lives, I would be screaming this from every platform I have. But, if the presence of a caring, informed adult can potentially save a life, how much more can it help a struggling teenager? The life of a teenager can be overwhelming and full of pressures. If more adults looked and saw the opportunity to learn and ask good questions, imagine what an encouragement we could be! 

I encourage you to read further on this study and the implications here and consider partnering with organizations who are putting volunteers out in the field like Teen Life here

Chris Robey

Chris Robey


Chris has worked with teens from a variety of backgrounds for over a decade. He has a desire to help teenagers make good choices while also giving their families tools to communicate more effectively as choices are made.