Spreading Christmas Cheer

Spreading Christmas Cheer

Christmas is one of my very favorite times of the year. I love the movies, the music and all the fun decorations that come with this season. It is a time of year that is filled with joy and laughter. It’s when teenagers get a break from school and college students finally get to come home for more than a long weekend. For my family, it means watching White Christmas, decorating the tree as a family and reading The Polar Express. It truly is (in my opinion) the most wonderful time of the year!

Hopefully you read our blog around Thanksgiving about Promoting Thankfulness, but I would like to think of this as a follow up piece for the next holiday! While it is important to make teenagers a part of the Thanksgiving season, it is just as important to give them a place and purpose during Christmas-time.

So how can we involve our teenagers? How can we help them give back on limited budgets and limited attention spans? Instead of getting frustrated when they don’t jump up to contribute, let’s get creative and come up with ways to involve our younger friends.


Let them pick the presents. 

Do you typically buy presents for your spouse or other children and say it’s from your teenager? Instead of just putting their name on the gift tag, involve your teenager in the present picking process. Ask them, “What do you think dad would like this year?” Whether you give them a budget and let them buy the present or just ask for their input, it makes them more invested in the giving part of the holiday.

You have a great opportunity to start training your teenager on how to pick out thoughtful gifts. Their wife or husband will thank you one day for the groundwork you are laying by involving them in this one simple thing.


Do a gift exchange. 

If your teenager has a limited budget and can’t afford gifts for the whole family, do a gift exchange. Maybe make this a Christmas Eve tradition! Have each family member draw a name and pick out a present for that person. It would also be a good idea to set a budget for everyone (ex. only presents that are under $20). This gives them the opportunity to pick out a special gift for at least one person each year and the fun part is that it changes each year you do it!

Another similar idea would be to do a Secret Santa leading up to Christmas. Have each family member draw a name on December 1st and ask them to surprise their person with at least 3 little gifts before Christmas. These could be simple gifts like a favorite sonic drink, a small basket of candy, a $5 gift card to their favorite fast food restaurant, or a pair of super comfy socks! The mystery and fun of picking out surprises is a small way to get them involved. For either of these options, try this site to pick the names!


Give gifts from the heart.

Make a tradition of doing at least one present that doesn’t cost any money but is just as thoughtful. Encourage everyone to make a gift, or give something that takes time instead of money. Here are a few ideas for teenagers:

  • Chore card – offer to do one chore that is usually done by someone else for a week.
  • Create a CD or playlist full of songs you think that person will love
  • Decorate a journal and write notes or encouragement
  • Date night – offer to watch the other kids so your parents can go out
  • TV control card – let another person pick the movie or tv show for 5 nights of their choosing

Even if it doesn’t cost money, the thought that they put into these presents will make them even more valuable.


Come up with a new tradition. 

Finally, ask your teenager to give up time instead of money. If you already have too many Christmas traditions, maybe you should skip this idea, or you could swap a tradition instead. I would suggest that you have your teenager come up with a tradition. Not only will it then be something that they will be more inclined to do, but when they complain about having other plans or not wanting to be home that night, you can remind them that it was their idea!

I love Christmas traditions, but they often come from traditions your family had when you were little or things that you decided on before you even had kids. Let your teenagers take ownership of this holiday and ask what they want to do! Do they want to watch a certain movie every year? Or look at Christmas lights? Or have breakfast for dinner and hot chocolate? Make it fun and something they want to do!

Do you think your teenager will like any of these ideas? What other ways do you get your kids involved in the holiday season? Please share them with us below!

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.
Promoting Thankfulness

Promoting Thankfulness

November is one of the only times of year that is set aside for everyone to be thankful.

We are thankful for food, family, and football.

But especially right now, many people seem to be struggling with thankfulness. Maybe they aren’t thankful for our President Elect, their job situation, the fact that Texas doesn’t have a real Fall…the list could go on and on. But teenagers and our kids are watching us! If we aren’t thankful, why should they be?

This holiday season, let’s be intentional about our thankfulness. Maybe this year, we need to step up our game and make it more than a just a Thanksgiving Day deal. Being thankful can be an everyday thing! In fact, there are several ways that thankfulness and gratitude can positively affect your quality of life!

Here are a few ideas to promote thankfulness in your family and make it special for teenagers this holiday season:


Include them in the Thanksgiving preparations.

Thanksgiving is a holiday that takes a lot of hard work, cooking and preparation. When you’re a little kid, it’s awesome because you get to sleep in, watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and be served food followed by pie. However, it is time for us to get our children, and especially teenagers, involved in the day.

If you’re like me, I am even more thankful for things when I know how much work and effort went into making it happen. Plus, this is a family holiday! Take advantage of that family time by passing on family recipes and traditions in the kitchen!

  • Have them help with the turkey
  • Teach them how to make grandma’s famous pie
  • Ask them to set the table and encourage them to get creative with the decorations
  • Have them make their favorite side dish

There are easy ways to get teenagers involved in making Thanksgiving dinner a success!


Create a thankfulness activity.

Be intentional about the way your family talks about thankfulness. A great way to do that is to create a family activity that everyone can participate in.

Maybe you get a paper or cheap fabric tablecloth that your family can use for the month of November. Every time your family sits down to eat together, have everyone write something that they are thankful for on the tablecloth. This is fun to see what you have been thankful for over a short period of time, and you can even keep the tablecloth for the next year!

Another idea is to create a thankfulness tree. This is a great excuse to put up your Christmas tree a few weeks early, or you could have a separate, smaller tree just for thankful words. Each day, have your family (or each member of the family if you are really thankful) decide on something you are thankful for and write it on an ornament. Decorate your tree with things you are thankful for before you fill it with presents!

Perhaps your thankfulness activity is something as simple as asking each family member to pick something they are thankful for and share it every night before bed. It does not have to be elaborate for it to be meaningful!


Give back to others in need. 

Sometimes it is easier to be thankful for what we do have when we serve people who have less than us. Growing up, service was a big part of what my family did together. We went on mission trips, adopted families at Christmas time and served the homeless on different occasions. These are opportunities for you to not only talk about your own blessings, but to also create family memories that will have a lasting impact.

If you are looking for a way to serve this holiday season, here are some ideas:

  • Go shopping for canned goods and help your local food pantry stock their shelves. Ask if they need any help!
  • Serve a meal at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter.
  • Request a M.A.G.I. box and fill it with goodies for a child in need.
  • Go through your closet and donate your old coats and sweaters.
  • Surprise a family by paying their grocery bill or pay for the person behind you in the drive-thru of your favorite restaurant.

Whatever you decide to do, serve as a family and take advantage of the conversations that can come out of this experience!

Are you willing to try any of these things to promote thankfulness? What other ideas have you used to make the holiday season extra special?

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.
Motivation Monday: A Lesson in Empathy

Motivation Monday: A Lesson in Empathy

We are less than 9 weeks away from our 7th annual #TL5K! In order to celebrate our biggest fundraiser of the year and bring awareness to what actually happens through Teen Lifeline Support Groups, we are going to release a bonus blog once a week until our 5K on April 2nd! These blogs will be a small glimpse into the stories of teenagers we work with and some of the facilitators who make these groups possible.

We are passionate about these groups because we get to see the faces, hear the stories and speak truth every single week. If you are just now getting introduced to Teen Lifeline or are wanting to know more about how we are helping teenagers live life better, these stories over the next 9 weeks are going to be a great way to take a behind-the-scenes peek at our non-profit.

I often get asked about our support groups and what a successful group looks like. You have no idea how tricky that question is…what does the perfect family look like? What are the characteristics of a perfect classroom? These questions are impossible to answer because…it depends.

It depends on the situation, the group of students, the needs of the group and the end-goal. Every single one of my groups is different, but one is not necessarily more successful than the others; however, there is one group in particular that comes to mind when I think of facilitating these support groups.

Last year, I was able to lead a middle school support group at an alternative campus (these are students who have been moved from there campus for one disciplinary reason or another). This being the first group I had ever led, I was nervous and a little (or a lot) anxious. I wondered how I would relate to these young trouble makers, if they would actually talk to me and how I would get them to connect with each other when they were more worried about video games and which boy liked them that week. Through the course of a school year, I saw over 36 middle schoolers in group, some that stayed with me for several months and some who were only there a couple of weeks.


In one particular g11121736_10152936928755819_7535644145960528926_nroup, we were talking about stress (by playing with play-doh, of course!), and one of the girls brought up her situation living in foster care. She talked about the stress of moving through different foster homes and new “siblings” that she was trying to get along with.

In this same group, I had a boy who sweet, brilliant, and very shy. He rarely spoke up in group, but as his peer talked about her fears and anxiety about home life, he stopped her and asked, “Are you okay? Do they ever hurt you?” He cut right to he chase (which made me a little nervous), but showed empathy in a way that was surprising for a middle schooler. Without me saying a word, these two started a conversation about getting help if she didn’t feel safe and how to deal with difficult family members. Even though I was the group facilitator, these two guided our group through discussion around dealing with stress and how to positively react when you are put in negative situations.

If I had to pick one thing, that would be my favorite characteristic of a successful group – when they reach out and encourage one another. Finding a connecting point with peers is huge, especially if you feel like you are on an island all by yourself. Our groups empower teenagers to seek out these relationships and let them know that they are not the only ones dealing with junk.

I am so thankful that I work for a ministry that allows these types of conversations to happen. A ministry that equips students to deal with stressful situations, encourages teens to open up and seek relationships, and empowers them to live their best life possible.


Karlie Duke was in one of Teen Lifeline’s original support groups and now is our Communications Director. She has lead support groups on two different campuses over the past two years.