This post was written by one of our facilitators, Josh Hardcastle. Before moving back to Abilene in 2016, Josh facilitated groups in Keller ISD. Now, Josh is the High School Youth Minister at Southern Hills Church in Abilene, TX where he lives with his wife, Whitney, and their two sons. Teen Life is so thankful for the way Josh pours into the lives of students!
I’ve been in ministry for a little over 5 years. I’ve seen successful and connected students come through my ministries, and I’ve seen disconnected and lonely students as well. I saw students coming in to our class time on Sunday mornings 5 minutes after I would start teaching and bolt as soon as I finished with the final, “Amen” of class. It broke my heart when I realized something: they didn’t have a consistent person investing and pouring into them.
According to recent studies, nearly half of all students are losing their faith before and after they graduate. But let me tell you about one of the best things you can do for a student in your life: Surround them with a tribe.
Can we get honest for a minute? We all want to fit in. Some of us used to try a little too hard to fit in. (I’m looking at all you people who tried to rock the crazy hairstyles or wear the clothes that made you look “hip.”) We all try to fit in somewhere though, right? We really want to belong. It’s a part of who we are as humans.
As kids, the parents essentially got to decide who was in their child’s tribe. But as they get older, their tribe naturally fell into place depending on what activities they are involved in. It’s up to us, as adults who care about the teenagers we work with, to know who is in their tribe that they look up to so that we can partner with them. This could be a coach, another teacher, a minister/pastor, or maybe just someone who is older than them.
For parents, that means admitting that you are not the only voice that they listen to on a daily basis. For everyone else, that means we have to work together with the parents so that we can reinforce the right message. What does this look like practically?
START WITH 5 PEOPLE YOU WOULD WANT INVESTING IN YOU.
One of the things I push my parents to do for their teenagers is to find five people for their student. And not just any five people. Five people that they look up to and would want to be mentored by as well. If they are good enough for you as a parent, they’re good enough for your teenager.
And don’t be awkward about it! A lot of times we make up excuses or might not know where to start when it comes to asking someone to invest in our teenagers. Be brave and willing to say, “Hey, I really appreciate the relationship that we have with your family. Would you be willing to encourage my teenager and speak life to them on a consistent basis?”
YOUR WORDS MATTER
Parents, please hear me when I say this: you are still the biggest influence in the life of your teenager. You may not realize it and it may not seem like it during these years, but your influence is still important. An important principle to remember is that it’s more important to fight FOR your teenager’s heart rather than WITH your teenager.
Rabbi Yehuda Berg says, “Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.”
If you want a kid to know they matter, then it matters what words you use when you talk to them and about them. The words you use can set them up to feel significant, valued, and unique.
Tribes help us feel connected.
Words help us to be empowered.
Tribes are there when we fall.
Words are there to build us up.
Tribes can give us a sense of belonging.
Words can give us light in the darkness.
The importance of talking about true love with teenagers
Think about your favorite love stories…are they real? From movie scenes? Are they written by your favorite author?
Teenage love stories are often awkwardly, impossibly romantic. The kind you find in sitcoms, books and blockbuster movies. Think awkward teen falling in love with a vampire who is 100 years older than her. Best friends finally realizing they love each other and living happily ever after. Imagine Inside Out’s picture of an imaginary boyfriend claiming, “I would die for Riley.”
In the midst of awkward imperfection comes perfect romance. We don’t watch movies or read books that end with a horrible breakup and no happy conclusion. We enjoy love stories that end with hope for a better future and hope that we could also one day find a love like that – a love that reads a notebook full of their love story every day, the kind of love that changes the beast into a man, a love that can even survive carbon-freezing in a galaxy far, far away.
But why don’t we put the same emphasis on the kind of love that is hard and real? Sometimes love hurts, it disappoints, it is jealous, it is almost always messy. When we have a view of love that is only good and sweet and always smells good, it is easy to walk away when it gets hard. Why would we settle for a love that doesn’t always bring joy? There must be something wrong with this person if I don’t always find them cute and charming like in the movies…
We do a disservice to teenagers when we encourage them to settle on surface-level, easy love. Because that’s what it is!
True love, faithful love is the kind of love that sticks it out when it isn’t easy. The kind of love you really want will be hard and difficult, but it is so worth it! That is what I want teenagers to hear.
Don’t settle for love that only comes around when your makeup is done or your shirt is clean – fall in love with the person who still kisses you when you have morning breath and a hole in your shirt. Don’t look for a love that completes your world – find someone who will make you better for the world.
Click or tap on the images below to read an excerpt from the journal of a High School girl (taken with permission). In this entry to God, she is realizing that hope, joy and purpose are not found in her boyfriend. He isn’t perfect but neither is she. I love her vulnerability and the way that she acknowledges the difficulty of finding a love that matters – in this case, a love with her Savior, Jesus Christ.
I’ve ended up changing myself to fit his lifestyle to fit his lifestyle when all along I’ve been trying to change his lifestyle. If anything I’m doing more harm than good.
Teen in Love
So what do we do with this? There is pain, confusion and uncertainty with all love, but especially when it comes to teenage love. Our teenagers are trying to figure out school, family, friends, extracurricular activities, and then you throw hormones into the mix and everything gets jumbled!
From this letter, I hope you see the importance of talking to teens about love, expectations and balancing all the exciting things (or distractions) that come with being a teen. Use the television shows, movies and books that they love to talk about the reality of love and where they should find their value. Don’t hide your own relationships from them, but model healthy, hard, real love (whether that is with a spouse, friend, or family member).
As Valentine’s Day quickly approaches, I hope you will be extra sensitive to the vulnerabilities and temptations that can come with teenage love. They need you to show them what real love looks like – don’t miss the opportunity!
We do a disservice to teenagers when we encourage them to settle on surface-level, easy love. Because that’s what it is!
Director of Communications
More Resources You Might Like
Karlie Duke | Director of Communications
Karlie has always had a heart for teenagers. Through her role at Teen Life, she loves to showcase the amazing stories coming out of Support Groups, but she is especially passionate about helping adults and teenagers find connection. Karlie has a BS in Communications with a minor in Family Studies from Abilene Christian University.
If you would like to donate or help by becoming a fundraiser, visit our #TL5K site!
One of our weekly groups is a year-round group at a local adolescent drug rehab. We have been working at this facility for over four years now, and I can honestly say it can be the most rewarding or frustrating experience of my week. These are young men who are battling addictions at a very young age and are (primarily) court ordered to go through 45-60 days of rehabilitation.
There are 16 boys on the unit at all times, so you can imagine how up and down these boys can get. A few weeks back, I had to completely shut down the group because the boys were not only being disrespectful of me, but also of each other. Nothing was getting done, and it seemed like they had all decided to quit on the group before we ever got started.
I don’t have to shut groups down very often. I try to exhaust all of my options before I make the call, but when I do, I typically do so with something specific in mind:
You see, when I have to come down hard on a group because of behavior or disrespect, I try to do so with a bigger plan in mind. While I hate to boot out a whole group of students from a week of support group that could be potentially helpful, I know the next week when we meet, things will be better.
Things will be better because when we meet again, I don’t hold anything against them. They failed to make the group happen last week. Maybe I failed as a leader. But, what is most important is how we move on. We can make it better together. I’m going to show up with the a positive attitude believing they can fix the problem.
And guess what? They always do. Anytime I’ve had to call out students on their behavior or attitude, they respond when I come back with the expectation that they will make it better and fix the problem.
We can do a great service to teenagers when we believe that they can get better. Adults have incredible power to influence students in a positive way by having hope that they can make positive and meaningful changes.
What can you communicate today to a student that will help them make meaningful change?
Chris Robey, Program Director, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
Before you freak out about the title of this blog, give me a chance to explain.
I am a hopeless romantic. My favorite movie is still Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I love the stories where the princess falls in love and lives happily ever after. When it comes to books, I read anything and everything with a love story – Nicholas Sparks, The Twilight Saga, The Selection Series, anything by Karen Kingsbury. I have iron-clad opinions on whether Katniss should end up with Gale or Peeta. I cried my way through The Notebook and even read the less-popular sequel.
I admit that I am a faithful watcher of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. I can tell you the names of the couples that are still together, watched all their TV weddings and even follow a few of my favorites on social media. I love the romantic dates, seeing who will get a rose each week, and watching the guys pick out the perfect engagement ring. I live for that final episode when the man gets down on one knee, and you see their love story come together for the perfect finale. Have I mentioned that I love all things romance?
But “porn,” really?? “Porn” can be a taboo word for our culture. Yes, we know it is out there, but we are not always willing to talk about it. Why would we want to bring up such an awkward topic with our teenagers? They don’t struggle with pornography addiction…and especially not my daughter!
Think again. According to research done by Covenant Eyes, 90% of boys and 60% of girls are exposed to pornography before the age of 18. That is your teenager. They are growing up in a culture where they can access pornography 24/7 on their television, laptop, or on the tiny phone that is attached to their hand. Pornography is a problem for adolescents and an issue that we do not ignore, but this blog is not about that type of pornography – naked pictures, sexting, magazines and x-rated movies (we will save that for another day).
For today, I want to speak mainly to the girls out there. Whether or not you connect with my story (or know someone else that does), I believe that our culture encourages girls and women to fall in love with these fictional men and their perfect relationships where arguments and morning breath do not exist.
“This is the #1 thing that distorts a girl’s view of reality, men and relationships. Maybe you haven’t heard it called female porn. Maybe you know it by the softer, more acceptable terms of “chick flicks” and romance novels…Your porn isn’t sexual, it’s romantic. But it gives you a warped view of men…if you have a man in your life, you begin to look at him in light of Mr. Perfect, and he can’t compare. He’ll never be as beautiful or romantic as the movie star with all the makeup and good lighting…It creates men who rescue you from out-of control buses and shower you with rooms full of roses. They fly you off to Paris for the weekend and save you from the evil villain bent on destroying the world. These men don’t exist…you are imposing an impossible set of demands on your guy.”
I am not saying that we need to ban romance movies or books – what would I do in my free time? But I do have a few suggestions for how we can combat this culture where girls are looking for a Prince Charming who will never come, and where guys feel like they can never live up to the romantic standard set by Hollywood.
1. Discuss realistic expectations.
When you talk to teenagers about the latest romantic comedy, make sure that they know that those are unrealistic expectations. While it is not unrealistic to expect a man to open your car door, hold your hand or treat you like you deserve to be treated, men (just like women) are imperfect. They aren’t going to bring home flowers every day. Their lines aren’t written by a producer who makes a living by making you cry. They probably aren’t going to stand outside of your window with a boombox to win your affection. They sometimes smell, they don’t always enjoy everything you do and they probably don’t have the bank account to support your love of diamonds or to fly you across the world for an exotic date.
It is okay to give a reality check. Encourage them to write down what they are actually looking for in their “perfect mate.” Focus on qualities and characteristics, not necessarily on their physical appearance or ability to give great gifts.
2. Set realistic boundaries.
You know your teenager best. If you see them falling into this romantic porn trap, set a few boundaries. Maybe they need to take a break from Nicholas Sparks. Perhaps you set a boundary where they have to sit down and have a discussion with you after they watch or read anything in that romance genre. Encourage them to find new, age-appropriate TV shows, books, or movies to invest their time in – try watching The Voice or Fixer Upper. Protect their hearts by limiting their exposure to romantically-saturated forms of entertainment. Maybe it is time to start a new hobby, like knitting!
3. Model realistic relationships.
Real relationships exist, so don’t hide the realities of marriage from your teenager. You are doing a disservice to your children if you pretend that your marriage is as perfect as the ones we see on-screen. It’s okay for them to see you argue every now and then. Start bragging about the little things that your spouse does – show that romance can come in the form of a well-timed kiss on the cheek, or coming home to clean dishes, or a text asking how your day was. Surround your teenagers with healthy relationships, in and out of the home, where they can see how marriages work on a day-to-day basis.
What do you think of this idea of female, or romantic, porn? Do you have any other ideas for how we can protect and encourage teenagers?
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.