It’s Time to Change the Filter

It’s Time to Change the Filter

Middle school and high school years are hard. They are full of uncertainty – about where to sit at lunch, why their bodies are changing, who likes them, and how to navigate these awkward teen years. And what about parenting?! It is full of questioning your own parenting tactics and their success on top of wondering if you can trust anything that is coming from that child’s mouth. Take all of these insecurities, add a jaded filter, and you have a complete and utter mess.

What do I mean by a jaded filter? Everyone comes into a situation with a set perspective (or filter). We refer to rose colored glasses. We ask if people see the glass as half empty or half full. We bring our backgrounds, ideas, past experiences, optimism, pessimism, trust issues, and more into every single conversation.

And that can change everything.

Recently, our staff went to a full-day training where the speaker showed this YouTube video. Hopefully you have seen The Sound of Music and won’t get the wrong idea after watching this video, but take a look at the power of perspective and background:

If you have seen The Sound of Music, you know that it is the opposite of a horror movie. But when you change the background music and take scenes out of context, it can take a completely different tone.

The same is true of our conversations. If we have in our mind that a conversation is going to be negative, we will see it through that light. If we pull every bad interaction out of context, we will only see that relationship through that lens. But our filters also have the power to improve situations – like if we assumed the best before starting a discussion. Or remembering all the good things that our teenagers have done instead of focusing on the bad.

This is a small shift, but it is crucial to our relationships, especially if we want to be good listeners. Here are a few tips on how to change our conversation filters:


Discover your current filter. First, you have to be honest and confront your own perspective. Before we can change our filter, we have to face the current one. Take a few minutes to think about past conversations. Identify what has affected your conversations, interactions and relationships. These questions are a good place to start:

  • Are you putting unfair expectations on a conversation? Where do these expectations come from?
  • Is there an unrelated, bad experience from earlier in the day that could affect a confrontation with your teen?


Address your teen’s filter. Just like you are coming into the conversation with a filter, so is your teenager. Maybe something happened last week that has made them angry at you. Maybe something happened at school to put them on the defensive. Maybe a different adult relationship has made them distrustful. In order to have a neutral discussion, you also have to address their filter. Ask them similar questions as the ones above. Clear the air and be ready to listen in order to find out about their perspective.


Reset both filters. Now that you are aware that you both have filters, the trick is to reset and change your filter to be less biased and more productive. We have to consciously set aside our filters to be open to the conversation in front of us. We also have to help teenagers set aside their filters as well. Try some of these tactics before your next conversation:

  • Be open and address that there could be something that is affecting the conversation.
  • Apologize if there is something that happened earlier to impact their filter.
  • Ask how your teen’s day has been before you jump into a conversation.
  • Ask, “What would it take to go into a conversation without any preconceived notions, ideas or judgements?”
  • Remember the things you love about each other before starting the discussion – focus on the good memories!


Let’s change our filters and have positive conversations with teens – no more horror filters, disrespect filters, anger filters, or disappointment filters. Each interaction can be a fresh start and a learning experience. How have you seen filters impact your own conversations? What others tactics can we use to change our filters? Share your ideas!!


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.
Get on the Ground

Get on the Ground

I’ve never considered myself the “playful” type. It’s not that I’m particularly boring, but my “default” gear isn’t to step into a room wondering what kind of mischief I can stir up. I leave that to my wife.

For me, it is more of a mental shift I make – a decision that I’m not going to focus on getting things done, but just “play”. Sometimes this can be a hard shift because I feel like I am at my best when I am accomplishing things. Being task-oriented has helped me become more focused and productive, but sometimes it comes at a cost. My job has become more task oriented, and often that will follow me home.

So, when I walk in my home after a long work day my challenge is turning off my task list and re-orienting my priorities. You see, my kids don’t care about what I accomplished that day. All they want is to play. And I find the quickest way for me to switch from work to play mode is quite simple – lay down.

Oh, and I forgot the second part – prepare for the pain.

For a seven, four, and two year old there is nothing more thrilling than to see their daddy lay down on the ground for them to wrestle and jump on. Seriously – I compare the looks I see on their faces to Christmas morning sometimes. Maybe it is because I don’t do it enough – or maybe it’s because there is something else going on.

Adults fail to realize the simple idea of distance. Our world is “up here” and their’s is “down there”. They are always looking up to what we are doing. When we discipline or get upset at them, often it is from “up here”. Important conversations and decisions are made from “up there”. But, “down here” is where play, imagination, games, wrestling, and all the cool kid stuff happens.

The problem is – us adults spend way too much time “up there” and forget about “down here”. We get so consumed with adult things that we forget there is a whole other world just below our knees that looks nothing like ours. All we have to do to experience it is to lay down.

I have two big boys, and they like to hurt me when I’m down on the ground. I have a little girl who loves nothing more than to bounce on my back. It does hurt. But, for a brief moment I enter their world, and they get to share all of the cool things they are doing. They are in control. They call the shots. I don’t really have any authority on the ground.

This is “sacred space” that all adults who work with students should notice. It looks different the older people get – but that sacred space still exists. There is a world that teenagers live in where adults seldom venture. It’s a place where the shiny new tools of emotional development, society, culture, education, and the future collide. For those on the inside, it can be pretty overwhelming. If more adults would go into the world of a teenager with compassion and grace instead of advice and rules, we would know what it means to “get on the ground” with teenagers. They will open up. They will listen to you. They will trust you.

So, let’s change the way we approach teenagers. Instead of bringing adult thinking and culture to them, let’s leave all of that behind and “get on the ground” with them. It might hurt a little, but imagine what you will find……

How does this strike you? How do you “get on the ground” with the teenagers in your life? 

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s COO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
The Worst Thing to Teach a Teenager

The Worst Thing to Teach a Teenager

“Just be yourself.”
“Don’t let anyone tell you who to be.”

This is simply bad advice. This mentality puts teens on the defensive rather than empowering them to work at becoming who they can be.

If you are pushing back on this already, consider this engagement story and how it is probably different from ones you normally hear.

I asked my wife to marry me, and she said no. What did I do? I left her in a field in West Texas, hoping she would never find her way back to town.

Okay, not really, I waited. And in just a few minutes she came back over to me, apologized, and said she did want to marry me. I was so happy. I was happy because I had not asked her to marry me only because I felt like it, I asked her because I had made a decision. I wasn’t hanging my future on feelings that can change in minutes or seconds. I was grounding my future in a decision that was made after multiple conversations with many trusted advisors. That decision has proven to be the right one because I continue to make it every day.

The same is even more true for teens. We have got to stop telling them, “Just be who you are,” because they have NO IDEA who they are. They need guidance toward who they are becoming – something all of us are doing every day.

So what do we need to tell them instead? What do we tell them in our groups? If you’re still with me it’s because you care enough about teens to have a conversation that matters and invest in who they are becoming which is a beautiful thing to watch.


Seek out input and advice from the right people

The flaw in a “be who you want to be” mentality is that our perspective is extremely limited when it comes to ourselves. We compare what we know inside our head with what we see externally from people around us. This is especially detrimental to teens. They don’t have the life experience to discern the difference between character traits that shape and feelings that cause impulsive, detrimental decisions. In addition, it is nearly impossible to understand the effects or consequences of the decisions we see others make. Especially when many effects of those decisions aren’t realized for years or decades.

This is why it is so important to help teens discern who those people are. What helps a lot is to get them to think about a person they respect and trust. You may get some resistance to this but it is the exception that a teen really has no one they can turn to. This person may be a relative, coach or other role model. The key here is to help them explore who this person is and then create a plan for how they can seek input from that person.


Find something about yourself to change

We are all working each day to become a better version of ourselves. If you decide who you are as a teenager, it implies that you have arrived. This makes no sense. I don’t know anyone that is contributing at life, being a responsible adult and positively effecting the world around them who has stopped asking who they should be. Embrace change. If we encourage teenagers to decide who they are now, it gives them a false sense that the difficulties they face will be easier to deal with. The truth instead is that embracing change is what allows us to keep an open mind about how we can continually become who we should be. We need to be telling them that they will always be figuring out who they are, and that is what life is about!


Make a decision based on facts and truth, not on feelings

Deciding to be someone is a much better approach then being who you feel you should be. I don’t know about you, but I often hear my internal voice tell me how much I suck and how big of an idiot I am. If I listened to this voice, I would not feel like doing my work or caring for my family most of the time. Instead, I have to use self talk to tell myself who I want to be. One of the principles of successful people (not monetary success, simply life success) that I read about often is that they spend time each day telling themselves, often out loud, who they want to be rather than giving in to who they feel like being. This is a huge difference and one that we must encourage teens to embrace.


In a lot of ways the three ideas above can be summarized by choosing a mentality to anticipate rather than react. Living life with an “I can be whoever I want to be” perspective is a reactionary way to live. If you instead anticipate what is coming next (a class in high school, graduation, college, job, marriage, kids) you will be more likely to keep learning who you are rather than getting stuck thinking you figured it out as a teen.

These difficult discussions are why it is so important in our groups to offer the opportunity for students to discuss who the feel they should be. It is extremely important to explore these ideas. But the key is that you are exploring them. Making a decision of who you are because you feel a certain way one day and you decide to stick with that is only going to end in sadness on the day that you realize that’s not who you really wanted to be. If you decide to instead be constantly changing and becoming a better you, not only do you embrace the changes as they come, but you make the world around you a better place because you are willing to adapt and mold in a way that factors in all the input you receive.

So what’s next? How do we shift this cultural norm of encouraging people to “just be yourself” and instead actually help each other to become a better version of ourselves every day?

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.
Set Back or Opportunity?

Set Back or Opportunity?

We all have those moments in life that we must choose. Is this event, situation, or interruption going to propel me on to the next stage? Or is this the time when I begin to plateau, or even worse, I let frustration set in and begin to give up? These moments come often and are a part of life. If we really think about it, they begin as early as walking. A child that begins to walk stands up and takes a step and falls, then that child has to either decide to get back up or give up. Thankfully, most of us chose at that point to get back up.

But as we get older, it becomes harder because the amount of tasks add up and the difficulty of getting back up increases. Or does it? What if it is our mindset that makes or breaks what we will face?

It has been a journey for me to shift my mindset and honestly that journey is still continuing. For me, it began when my Grandfather died. He was my fill in Dad. He represents the kind of man I want to be – a good husband, father and a hard worker. I looked up to him and admired him, and I felt he deserved to live. However, life interrupted that, and he got cancer and died. I struggled with this for a while and in some ways still do. But since then, I have sought out new perspectives that help focus on the right things and point me toward how these set backs can actually become what helps us move forward.

Here’s the thing. This idea has been popping up in several different places for me. I am amazed at what people can go through and still accomplish great things. Here are two examples you may want to spend some time exploring for yourself.
  1. On the podcast, This American Life episode 559 titled “Captain’s Log,”  one of the stories they highlight is about an amazing Girl Guide (Girls Scouts in the U.S.) group from Great Britain that journaled their experience in a Japanese Concentration Camp during World War II. If that doesn’t get you interested already, you can just skip to the next paragraph, otherwise click the link!
  2. My wife and I watch America’s Got Talent. This season is in the final episodes and there are several good singers this year. One of them is Brian Justin Crum, and he said if he hadn’t experienced bullying he wouldn’t be where he is right now. What? He took a negative experience and used it to propel him to a place that only he could go. The national stage of America’s Got Talent.

I think having a perspective like this on negative circumstances comes from a choice we make outside of the situation itself. We have to choose to have an outlook on life that is different then a lot of people have. Simply put it is a mindset of abundance verses scarcity. You can read more about this idea on Michael Hyatt’s blog, “Two Types of Thinkers…”

To put this in practical terms here are some ways that teenagers can start to implement this new mindset now. (Parents, these are insider tips so please have these conversations covertly rather than explicitly.)


  • You can always learn from what you are experiencing.
  • When faced with a difficult situation, intentionally look for the small, good thing and focus on that.
  • Don’t run from risk and negative encounters, but instead consider how that experience might help you be a better you.

What negative experience have you had that propelled you forward? Did something or someone help you see that experience differently?

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.

Remember a Better Future

Remember a Better Future

When I was about 3 years old, our house was broken into. We weren’t home so it wasn’t traumatic, but I remember the mess around the room and that my piggy bank was broken.

I remember when I was about 6 years old and water-skied for the first time. I can almost still hear my grandfather coaching me lovingly on how to hold the rope and stand and let go if I fall.

In high school, I didn’t get in much trouble, but I did get sent to the Principal’s office because I was in a part of the building I wasn’t supposed to be…with my girlfriend.

I remember a time I went snow skiing (something I was not confident about), and a high school girl had to coax me down the mountain because I froze about 100 yards from the bottom. I made it down but was very embarrassed.

I remember my most embarrassing moment meeting my now in-laws (thankfully they don’t).

And I remember asking my wife to marry me and her saying, “No,” and it still being an amazing night thanks to some wise loving mentors. We’re in our 15th year of marriage and it’s the best yet!

I don’t remember a lot, but I do remember these times.

I have been thinking lately that how we remember things really shapes what our future looks like; it shapes who we are because of how we remember the past.

So here is what we can all work on together – choosing to remember the best parts of the past. And this can be a choice. Through conversations I have with students, we get to talk about how they can choose to see things through a negative viewpoint and keep focusing on how things aren’t going their way, or they can choose to remember the good times, the good qualities in people, the lesson they learned and use those positive memories to propel them toward an ever better life.


Here are some ideas for remembering better:

Work hard to find the positive. This is tough. I know because it is hard to see any positives in some family stuff I’m dealing with right now. And yet, I believe it’s there. I may not see it today, but I can choose to keep looking, and when I find it, I can only imagine how good that will feel!

Stop reliving the negative parts of the story. It’s often easy to want to tell others those negative parts. Either because we feel we handled it well or because it is what seems most interesting. The truth is, by focusing on these aspects, it reinforces the memory we have in a negative way.

Ask, “How can we get something good from this experience?” I had the kids in my car, and a guy cut me off, stopped in the middle of the road, got out and yelled at me about my driving. I couldn’t believe it. All I could think was, “How can I model for the kids in my car a positive way to handle a volatile situation?” Then, when it was over, I let them talk about it a little, andnsome of us shared it with mom who wasn’t there, and then we moved on. I said, “It was scary, but we are all safe and it’s over.” Getting obsessed with something like this can be very detrimental to our human ability to get back out on the road and go where we need to go, figuratively and literally.

Realize most things are out of your control. We love to think we control things, anything, everything. The reality is, we control very little and even what we do has outside influence and factors that can easily derail our control. Life is a constant learning process, and the more we can realize and accept that, the more benefit we will get from the experiences we go through.


As you can see, I’m right in the middle of figuring this out. Some of you are farther along then I am, and some could offer a fresh perspective or story to open my eyes to other possibilities. Take a minute and share this or reply back and let us know what insight you can offer so we can all keep living life better.



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.