A Seat at the Table

A Seat at the Table

Last week, as we were working through an activity in our support group, one of the young ladies asked if she could step out in the hallway. She had a mask on, so I wasn’t quite sure if she was upset, but the counselor followed her out to be sure. About five minutes later, she re-entered the room and finished the group. While this didn’t seem like much, I asked the counselor what had happened with this student.

“Well, she got very emotional all of a sudden and needed a second. Apparently, the issues the other students were talking about were exactly what she was going through. She wasn’t sad or upset. She just got overwhelmed with knowing she wasn’t alone.”

Can you imagine? Well, of course, you can. We have all felt alone.

Alone in our thoughts. Our struggles. Our fears. Our failures. Our pain.

Feeling alone is like a millstone around our neck. The weight and pressure of loneliness is unspeakable. Not until that weight is lifted do we understand how much of a burden it was.

And that is where so many teenagers find themselves. Despite living in a world that is overly connected, most teens would tell you they are lonelier than ever.

This year at the Teen Life Dinner and Auction, we spent time focusing on the concept of the open table. That is, we all long for a seat at the table where we know we won’t be judged and where we can connect. That’s all we really want most of the time. We want to hear that we aren’t alone and that we won’t be rejected.

During adolescence we find crucial developmental milestones taking place. Autonomy. Differentiation. Self-actualization. Reflection. Establishment of core values. Identity formation. In other words, the most important stuff!

But imagine going through all of those milestones feeling like you were the only one in the world that was experiencing these things.

When a teenager is becoming “themselves” through the process of adolescence, healthy relationships are crucial to positive outcomes.

An open table is key. A teenager needs a safe place to turn when life gets difficult.

Will that be you? Will you be the non-judgmental presence needed when no one else will help? We need more safe people. Period.

How do we start?

Be shockproof. No matter what a teenager says to you or does, take it in stride. Be safe. Be a welcoming presence.

In doing so, you welcome them to the table where they can find the safety and connection they need to make the right decisions and become who they were meant to be!

Chris Robey

Chris Robey

CEO

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.

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