Death of “Future Me”

Death of “Future Me”

Recently I stumbled upon a short podcast series by the New York Times entitled “Odessa”, which chronicles the physical re-opening of Odessa High School out in West Texas after the shutdowns of the spring and early fall of 2020. The series focuses on the marching band and the many struggles they faced as Odessa faced a COVID surge on top of school reopening.

In a later episode of the series, a student introduced in the first episode starts to exhibit a significant change in behaviors. A teenager once vibrant and socially active suddenly fell off the map. She stopped attending school, returning texts, and showing up to band practice. While those who knew and loved her made sure she was safe, otherwise she became completely disengaged.

After a while the interviewer was able to connect with this student and it was interesting to hear how she was doing. She said overall she was fine, but just wanted to be alone. In fact, her and many other students reported the same. They didn’t seem to be depressed or anxious, but they also didn’t really want to engage in any meaningful way with their friends or adults.

Also recently I read a really compelling article that got me thinking about stories like the one above, and even my own story in a way. The article cited a psychologist who explored aspects of consciousness and he divided our experiences as being either in the “experiencing self” or the “remembering self”. That is, the present moment and about 5 seconds before and after are what we experience. But we also have another “self” that is in the past telling us stories about times already gone. He did a lot of work in understanding how our two senses of “self” interplay with each other and how we need to be aware of how much noise each “self” is making.

Yet, this article expanded this framework to include what she called the “anticipating self”. That is, the part of us that hopes, dreams, and expects. Typically the “anticipating self” is a bit more optimistic about things and hopes for the future to be just a little better. The author posits that it is this “self” that drives us to make positive changes and choices.

We choose to eat better because we hope for better health.

We save our money because we envision ourselves being financially secure.

We make the better, harder choices so tomorrow will find us in a stronger position.

In other words, our “anticipating self” is the driving force to make better choices.

I think about this teenager featured in the “Odessa” podcast. As the episode ended, several school counselors were interviewed about the behavior of this student and those like her.

They said they had lost all motivation. No hope for the future. Anything beyond today became fuzzy or opaque.

In other words, their “anticipating self” was incapacitated.

If you know much about adolescence, you know that the “anticipating self” is a new developmental tool available to teenagers as they enter those early teen years. Children don’t often dream about what’s going to happen to them in 10 years. But as adolescence settles in, thinking about tomorrow becomes more of an option. I call this a new “tool” because often adolescents don’t use this tool, even if it is available to them.

This pandemic has caused so much uncertainty to the developing mind of an adolescent that they choose to silence the “anticipating self”. This last year has been so hard that thinking about anything positive for the future feels like a fools errand.

I believe this is why we are seeing such a surge in mental health issues with teenagers. When there is no real future, no real reason to engage with our “anticipating self”, then what is the reason to engage or even, hope?

As I work with teenagers these days, I’m especially mindful of helping them talk about the future in a positive light. And, it’s incredible to see how they respond. Often, they have forgotten that a positive future is even a possibility.

Because, it is. Let’s do everything we can to help teenagers engage with their “anticipating self”. What if, instead of engaging in the doom and gloom of this moment, we helped students anticipate what could be better or different? What if we rejected the notion that things are only going to get worse?

Let’s revive our anticipating selves.



For more tips on helping teens look for hope, check out this recent post.

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.

Holding Back the Future

Holding Back the Future

I remember watching The Jetson’s growing up. I appreciated it, but I loved SilverHawks (go ahead, make fun), Transformers and Star Wars. I am a big fan of TV shows and movies that dream about what the future will be like.

One of my favorite ideas though is flying cars (I thought the Hoverboard was pretty cool, too. The one from Back to the Future, not those fake ones on Amazon that catch fire…)

It’s exciting when I see companies like Uber investing in fururistic ideas that can and will make a difference. I’m serious about this, flying cars (though at least 10 years away) are something that could change things for the better, and I’m ready to see it happen.

What is it that has kept things like that from happening sooner? Why haven’t we seen real progress in the development of technology? Lots of people have ideas on this, but I believe there are underlying issues that apply to more than future progress that affect our human ability to either feel the need to change or complacently coast with what we have.

When our focus in on control rather than exploration, we don’t even recognize that something is missing.

When we try to stay too safe rather than coach kids on how to navigate failure, we miss opportunities that failing can teach. We also miss out when we fall into the trap that we should teach practical over principle in education.

I saw this YouTube video the other day from Boyinaband #DontStayInSchool. His whole premise is that the education system did not teach him what he needed to learn. The fact is if he had been taught the skills he talks about, he wouldn’t have remembered them because of his attitude not because of his ability to learn. The truth is if we lose site of the benefit that comes from learning the basics of education and using that as a foundation to then understand life skills like budgeting rather than complaining that “no one taught me how to pay my taxes,” we have drifted into the zone of not seeing life for what it is, an opportunity every day to learn something new. The skills we learn in school are about the principle, not the information.

Here’s the thing, some educational approaches do need to change but the more important change is to tell our kids that it’s up to them to learn everything they can with the tools they have. If they don’t learn how to pay taxes or what your basic human rights are, that rests fully on their choice to not go find those things out. It’s up to us as parents to help our kids learn along with the school and not assume they are getting all they need. I tell my kids all the time, some things seem pointless, but it is your opporunity to ask, “What can I still learn here?”

So what can we do? At the core, we can encourage excitement about learning, engage relationships, stop blaming everyone else for kids not learning, and take responsibility for our part. By not having this approach to life, we are suppressing a future that desperately wants to be seen but we are being held back by the distraction of the blame game.

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.
3 Conversations to Have Before School Starts

3 Conversations to Have Before School Starts

It is that back-to-school time of the year again!

I can hear the cheers and tears from the Teen Lifeline office. Whether you are looking forward to getting back to a routine, wondering how your baby has grown into a high school senior, or are trying to figure out how your youth ministry is going to hold up against football season – you have a role to play in this upcoming school year!

Before teenagers start back at their Middle or High Schools, or the graduates leave home to start their college adventures, take time to have bold, encouraging conversations! You have an opportunity to help students set goals and think about where they want to be at the end of this 2016-2017 school year.

By having healthy conversations (check out this blog post), this school year can get off to a great start from the very first day! Here are some goals to help teenagers think about before they start school:


Grades are important. They help you graduate high school and get scholarships for college. They are a reflection of what you have learned and how hard you have worked at a particular subject.

However, grades don’t define your student or their worth. Students will put pressure on themselves about what kind of grades they should be making before you say a word. Instead of starting out the school year with a lecture about responsibility, finishing homework before video games or the consequences for poor test grades, ask your student these questions:

  • What do you want your grades to look like at the end of this school year?
  • If you improved your grades and school work from last year, what would that look like?
  • How can I help you succeed this school year?

If you allow them to set their own goals, they will take more ownership in their school work. Instead of working toward your expectation, they will be stepping up to the standards they set for themselves – what better lesson could you teach a teenager? Help them set realistic goals and hold them accountable throughout the year with {friendly} reminders. Don’t expect your B student to make a 4.0 this school year, but encourage them to improve and continue to grow!


As you know, friends and peers have a huge influence during teenage years. They can impact grades, decisions, activities and attitude. While they are old enough to choose their own friends, as the adult it is okay for you guide them in these choices. When it comes to friendships they have at school, start a conversation by asking these questions:

  • What relationship last year provided the most encouragement?
  • How do your friendships impact your performance at school or in extracurriculars?
  • Are their any relationships that provided drama or stress? What can you do to make that relationship healthier?

They probably aren’t going to react well if you ban them from hanging out with their best friend. But maybe you can open up the door for healthy conversation if you ask them to share first. Teenagers are smarter than we often give them credit for! If they are in an unhealthy relationship, let them talk through what that looks like and what they could do to either get rid of the friendship or set up healthier boundaries.


It seems like today’s teenagers are busier than ever. Not only are they expected to go to school during the week and church on the weekends, but they also have to be involved in multiple extracurriculars, join school clubs and complete crazy amounts of service hours.

That is what colleges expect, right?

Extracurriculars are good and character building, but it is important for students to set goals not only on how to better themselves through these activities, but also how to find margin and rest in the midst of their busy schedules. Especially if you are talking to a teenager who is involved in multiple sports, activities or volunteer opportunities, encourage them to set healthy goals by asking these questions:

  • How many extracurriculars do you think you’ll have time for with school and other responsibilities?
  • How can you improve and use these experiences to help you in the future?
  • What can you do to make time for rest, friends and fun?

Have them prioritize their activities – there may be some new opportunities that arise this year, but if it passes what they can handle, it is not worth taking it on. They are teenagers, but they are still allowed to have fun! Please don’t allow your teenager to live like an adult. Help them take advantage of the freedom and fun that comes with adolescence. If they feel like they need to give up an activity to better balance their time, help them make the decision that is best for them (even if it means giving up that sport you love).


You have the power and the opportunity to help teenagers see their future and set goals to reach it. Ask good questions, listen with empathy and work together to set realistic goals that will allow them to not only enjoy but also take advantage of their teenage years.

Are you willing to have these conversations? Share what goals the teenagers you talk to set! How will you help hold them accountable?

Karlie Duke was in one of Teen Lifeline’s original support groups and now is our Communications Director. She is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories.

Don’t Panic about a Bad Story with Dr. Michael Arnold

Don’t Panic about a Bad Story with Dr. Michael Arnold

Listen & Subscribe:  iTunes | Android | RSS


Story-telling is a powerful tool, especially when working with teenagers. In this episode, Dr. Michael Arnold joins Chris to discuss Narrative Therapy and how you can use stories to start conversations and deepen relationships with teenagers. Don’t panic about Narrative Therapy, even you can utilize the power of story and metaphors!

In this episode, you’ll find out…
  • What Narrative Therapy is and how it can be used in counseling and everyday life.
  • The 3 stages of Narrative Therapy.
  • How we can help students reconstruct their story.
  • Why story is so important in our culture.
  • How you can use Narrative Therapy to build deeper relationships with teenagers.
Ask yourself…
  • Am I taking time to be still and just listen?
  • What do I want to change about my own story?
Go ask a teen…
  • What do you want this to mean in the future for you?
  • Is there anything that you want to be different in your story?
In this episode, we mentioned the following resources:

About Us:

Michael Arnold, Psy.D., M.A.C.L. is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Dallas/Fort Worth area with over 17 years of education, training, and professional experience in providing psychological services for individuals, couples, and groups. Dr. Arnold is the founder of Alliance Counseling and Psychological Services in Southlake, Texas. He believes that therapy should consist of creating a safe and supportive environment to promote one’s ability to thrive in response to life’s challenges.

Chris Robey is the Program Director for Teen Lifeline, Inc. Earlier in his career while working as a youth minister, Chris earned a Masters Degree in Family Life Education from Lubbock Christian University to better equip his work with teenagers and families. Chris’ career and educational opportunities have exposed him to teenagers from a variety of backgrounds. Follow him on Twitter!
Karlie Duke started working as Teen Lifeline’s Communications Director after graduating from Abilene Christian University with a degree in Communications with a minor in Family Studies. Karlie has worked with teenagers for the past 5 years and is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram!
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!
Do You Have “Grit”?

Do You Have “Grit”?

Before I had three kids in tow, I would typically go to Colorado each summer to go hiking and hopefully summit a mountain. I would look forward to it all year, imagining what it would be like to walk along rushing mountain streams, through thick aspen thickets, on up above the tree-line to where few seldom travel. The crisp mountain air and the absence of an ever-buzzing cell phone beckoned me as I prepared for this trip.


Getting to the trailhead was always so exciting. But then, reality hit. The packs are heavy and uncomfortable. The weather is unpredictable. The air was way too thin. My lungs are far too small. The altitude made me sick. It was cold. The food stunk.


You see, I typically only think about the trailhead and the peak. All of the things in between aren’t really front of mind when considering a summit. It’s the glory I’m after, not the pain.


Recently, I’ve been introduced to a concept called “grit”. When I first heard about it, I thought it was more along the lines of resiliency. The resiliency trait focuses on a person’s ability to overcome challenges and recover well from setbacks. It’s more about keeping ones head about them as they face the normal stresses of life. It’s a crucial trait for a teenager to develop as life is full of challenges and difficulties. Those who are resilient will tend to rise above their circumstances and not give into substance abuse or anxiety.


Yet, “grit” is something that builds upon resilience. It’s more of a long-term indicator of success. “Grit” can be seen as a tendency to sustain interest and effort towards long-term goals. It is more than overcoming the challenges of life as a matter of routine. We find those with “grit” having the big picture in mind and having a plan or set of goals to get them there. They know what they want, and no setback or failure will stop them. In fact, those with “grit” would know setbacks and failures are part of the journey.


We live in a fractured world that contains a lot of uncertainty. Paths are less certain to success, so many who are young struggle to have any kind of “big picture”.


In her short TED talk on “grit” and education, Dr. Angela Duckworth talks about this factor being unique in successful individuals, no matter socioeconomic, cultural, or educational level.



What is interesting about this talk is her own admission about how little they know about building this trait. There is very little doubt this trait is a factor in success, but understanding how to create this quality remains a bit of a mystery.


Yet, as I listen to this talk as well as read more on the subject, one factor continues to pop out. The individual with “grit” has a very clear and defined idea of what the “mountain top” looks like. They have dreamed about it, studied it, and have made it a part of who they are. It is paramount to their personhood that they find their way to this goal, no matter how long or difficult.


“Grit” is about vision and motivation, and figuring out what it will take to get there. As helpers of teenagers, we need to be in the business of helping students clarify their own visions for the future and help them do what it takes to get there. Point them towards others who have “grit”. Identify the fears. Encourage them when they fail. But, never let them quit.

So, what do you think about the concept of “Grit”? Do you have it? Take this quick quiz and see what it says! 

Chris Robey, Teen Lifeline’s Program Director, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.