5 Conversations to Have As School Starts

5 Conversations to Have As School Starts

I originally wrote this post two years ago with 3 conversation starters, but I want to revisit and add a couple of conversations that I believe will be helpful. So buckle up, school is here!



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

I can hear the cheers and tears from the Teen Life 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 2018-2019 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 as 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).


Physical, Mental, & Spiritual Health

Coming off the last conversation, it is so important for teenagers to take care of themselves! While culture is talking more about mental health, we cannot ignore it in our homes, churches or schools!

Please make sure you are having these conversations with your teen. Are they aware of signs of depression or suicide in themselves or friends? Are they motivated to improve in any of these areas? This conversation could be touchy or emotional, and is really three conversations, but don’t shy away from it! Start with these questions:

  • Do you feel like you have someone you can talk to about health? Especially mental and spiritual health? Who is that person?
  • What would you do if a friend came to you with a health concern?
  • What could you do this school year to improve in each of these areas? How could we help you accomplish your goals?

Be willing to ask your teen about the current state of their physical, mental, and spiritual health. Do they want to change anything? How can you help? Can you get them a gym membership or cook healthier meals? Could you help them seek the guidance of a counselor? Does one of their friends need a trusted adult to talk to? Can you start a family Bible Study? Consider what they need for themselves and from you.



Teenagers are trying to find identity and values at this phase of life. As the adults in their lives, it is our job to guide and teach while also giving them a safe space to try and sometimes fail. Teens won’t be perfect – I wasn’t at that age and definitely still make plenty of mistakes! However, we can help them set some boundaries in place to protect and direct as they gain the confidence and understand they need to truly succeed.

Maybe boundaries look like a curfew, or a time restraint on social media or Netflix. Maybe they want to limit how often they hang out with a certain friend or which event they want to avoid. Let them start the conversation and try not to jump in at the beginning with what you think is best. Here are a few questions to get this final conversation started:

  • What personal boundaries would help you succeed this school year?
  • How likely are you to say, “No!” when someone crosses your boundaries?
  • How do you think the boundaries we have set could be helpful? Are their any boundaries you have concerns about?

The beginning of school is a great time to talk about boundaries and expectations for the school year. Some rules will change over the years, and some will stay consistent. Some teenagers will even have intelligent boundaries that they want to set for themselves – give them that opportunity!



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. These are great conversations to have at the beginning of school, but we also encourage you to revisit these topics – ask how they are doing with their goals and if anything has changed. This is just a starting place!!

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 Life’s original support groups and now is our Marketing & Development Director. She is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories.
How to Win at Regulating

How to Win at Regulating

It is likely that your teenager will get a new tech device this Christmas. That is, if they don’t already have one. I wrote about this in a previous post and talked about the ways you, as a parent, can monitor and regulate your teenagers use of devices.

Here, I am more interested in how adults in teenagers’ lives can empower teens to regulate themselves. You see, if we aren’t teaching our kids how to set up boundaries from an early age, all they will learn is to follow what someone else tells them to do. Or worse, they will learn to resist and rebel against what they are told to do. Our job needs to be that we help our kids understand the value in setting healthy boundaries and the benefit they will get from doing that on their own. The way I say it to my kids is, “I want you to make choices that allow you to have the freedom to choose to do whatever you want. That includes doing things that are wrong but knowing that when you choose those things, you begin to lose your freedom. So you make the right choices and maintain the freedom you have.”

Here are some ideas for how to help your student make their own choices and boundaries.

  1. Understand that this is a self-control goal. We all struggle with self-control in some area of our life. As students grow up, they will expose many areas in their life that need self-control. Technology use is just one of them. When we focus on the underlying problem, it is not just a battle for more technology time. So helping them see the importance of self-control is key. As they buy in, the idea that technology is a tool (not a toy) can help shape why it is important to regulate their own screen time.


  1. Finding the right monitor or software is not the solution. I love that Amazon Kindle for kids highlights that you can set time limits and access limits for your kids. But this is really about you as the adult not being engaged and relying on the tech to do the monitoring. This is not a slam on you as a parent, it is pointing out that if we are not watching and paying attention to what our kids are doing, we will miss when something doesn’t work the way it is supposed to. We also wrongly communicate that the device is in control. This is not something I want my kids to think. I want them to have the power over their device and not be controlled by it. Starting at 8 years old, my wife and I expect our kids to set their own timer for their screen time. This puts them in charge, and if they don’t use it responsibly, then they lose the privilege of using a device.


  1. Using technology is a privilege, not a right. Just because other kids get certain devices doesn’t mean everyone does. Just because the school lets a student have extended periods of iPod or ChromeBook use doesn’t mean that happens at my house. The use of technology is for those willing to accept the responsibility that comes along with that. This means that your teenager should be happy to let you look at their text messages, social media interactions and location tracking. The balance of this is that you, as the parent, handle this the right way. Ask yourself, “Have I created a welcoming environment where my teen knows they can approach potentially uncomfortable conversations without me “freaking out”?” If not, start creating that space now and changing the way you interact with your teen so they can learn the lessons they need to before they leave the safety of your home.


  1. Finally, be okay with mistakes. Teenagers are going to make mistakes as they learn these lessons. You must be willing to work with them. Understand you are in the coaching stage. It is really too late to discipline life lessons into them, although there are sometimes consequences of actions. But instead, you are there to hear from your teen how that decision has affected what they want to do and who they want to be. Then, help them find a solution to correct things and move on. Ultimately you are helping them learn how to make decisions so they can keep making the right ones.

I hope you and your family have a Merry Christmas and that your 2018 begins with some focused and intentional ways your family can work together even better this coming year.


What else would you add here? What have you seen work in trying to help your teenager self regulate and use their technology as a tool not a distraction?


Ricky Lewis is our CEO and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.

5 Ways to Keep Peace in Your Home

5 Ways to Keep Peace in Your Home

Welcome to a new year! If your’s started anything like mine, it was not as planned. Just before midnight, my wife and I had the opportunity to clean up after a sick kid. But you know what – it didn’t ruin our evening, and I would contribute that in large part to her but also to some established guidelines we have in our home. These are a work in progress for us, and I hope they will be for you, too. Whether you apply this as a parent, youth minister, teacher or counselor, I believe this list can help you literally keep the peace.

I want to do things a little backwards in this post. Most of the time you would wait until the end for a bonus, but I’m going to give you the bonus first. The list below works best in the context of some other established “house rules”. The one I believe has had the most influence in our home is that we don’t talk about what could have been. What I mean is that we don’t ever bring up, “Well if we had not decided that, or if this person wasn’t here, or if we had done this my way, everything would be okay.” This is bonus because without house rules (some would say family values) any other rules you try to enforce will be met with significant resistance or worse confusion. Establishing what your family, classroom, youth group, etc., hold as their standards will allow you to have conversations about how that can best play out for all of you.


1. Create a plan when things are calm– This seems so simple and may even feel like something you hear all the time, but have you actually followed through and done it? My guess is probably not. If you have, great! Then you have a chance to revisit the steps you have in place or the plan for handling difficult situations. If you need to establish a process, plan or put steps in place, then schedule a time to get it done. This is one of those things that can feel like, yeah we will get to it. But you won’t. You have to prioritize it by setting aside the time.


2. Involve your teen (child) at home– I don’t mean the process of creating a plan, that should be a given. Involving your child at home means having chores they are expected to do. It means including them in family decisions and asking for their input about how things are going. Then, you need to be willing to implement ideas they have for making things better.


3. Follow through – There are a miriade of reasons this is important. As a parent, your follow through is important to help your kids build trust with you. That applies to everything from discipline to showing up at school activities to expecting them to do their chores. Of all the things on the list, this may be the hardest for me with young kids, but the best way I have found to be more effective is to be very careful with what I say I am going to do and very intentional with what I do say.


4. Don’t treat everyone the same (and talk about why) – A real struggle as a parent or youth worker is the tension of treating everyone equally but not the same. Each person is different. Because that is true, it’s so important not to treat them as if they are not. This is especially hard for parents of multiple kids. To be aware enough to handle situations with each kid differently is a significant task on top of everything else. As your kids grow, the importance of independence and connection will collide. As the adult, it is essential to continually work on how this is happens with the teens and kids you interact with but it is worth all the effort you put into it.


5. Be creative, you’re the adult– There is no parenting manual. This can be a tough thing, but it can also be good. You know your kids best and only you can truly come up with the best way to teach and train them. In my opinion, the key here comes in the posture you have as the adult. Recognizing this is a long term process, like 18-24 years, is necessary to keep things in perspective. With that mindset, you can approach more situations age appropriately and with more empathy and grace. Each and every situation is potentially a teachable moment but is not dependent on the child’s ability to absorb the lessons, but rather your ability to communicate it clearly…again. You may feel or say you have tried everything but you haven’t. Try something that seems ridiculous and unrelated. You may be pleasantly surprised by the connection your teen can make to the lesson they need to learn.


Obviously, this is not a prescription or exhaustive list. I would recommend looking at books and blogs from Mark Matlock, Kevin Leman, Michelle Borba, and Daniel Siegel to keep your thoughts fresh and continue exploring how you can be the most effective adult influence in the lives of teens you encounter.

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.

5 Ways to Keep Teens Safe This Summer

5 Ways to Keep Teens Safe This Summer

As a teenager, there are few things greater than Summer Break – no school, getting to sleep in, more time with friends, days by the pool or at the lake, family vacations, snow cones, and fewer rules.

Wait, fewer rules? How does that make sense?

Unfortunately, as teenagers gain more free time in the summer, many are also held to lower standards, fewer boundaries and later curfews. As someone who works with students in the school year, who hears about their wild weekends, and crazy summer stories, please don’t make it easier for your child to get into trouble. 

Summer is fun (and it should stay that way), but fun doesn’t mean that you stop parenting. Summer is the time when you need to be even more on guard! As the parent (or friend, coach, youth minister, mentor) of a teenager, it is your job to help them set their boundaries, manage freedom and make good decisions. Teenagers will resent boundaries and probably even fight you, but in hindsight, they want and need you to set rules (we’ve written about this before here).

To set healthy boundaries, try some of these principles this Summer!

1. Be aware of their location at all times.

I’m not necessarily saying you have to track them by GPS, but set a standard where they will call or text you before they change locations. It can be a simple text, but it let’s you know what they are planning and forces them to think through a plan and communicate that to you.

Are they going to a friend’s house for the afternoon? Great! Are they leaving to grab a sonic drink? Sounds good! Finally on their way home? See you soon!

Hopefully this is an easy boundary and one without much push-back from your teenager. I encourage you to present this as a way to communicate with your teen and not as an I’m-always-watching-you rule. Knowing their location gives you the opportunity to ask follow up questions when you see them – to ask about the friends they are with, where they ate and what they did for fun. It also shows that you care enough about them to ask those questions. And that makes more of a difference than you know!

2. Set a curfew and stick to it.

What time you set their curfew is entirely up to you, and maybe you want to make it a little later in the Summer, but don’t get rid of curfew altogether just because school is out! Maybe they have the same curfew until they graduate, or maybe the curfew starts at 10 and is moved to midnight as they get older. You know your child and what they need best!

It is important to set a curfew before it ever becomes an issue. If they show up 2 AM and you haven’t talked about a curfew, you can’t logically get upset – you should have set the precedence beforehand! This principle is good for you and them. If they are out past curfew and have followed the first principle, you should know where they are and who to call to find them.

Another part of this is to stick to the curfew, especially if they ask to spend the night somewhere after they have already left the house. You know the rules and boundaries of your house, but not every parent or house holds their kids to similar standards. If teenagers know that they can change plans on their parents at a moment’s notice, they will ask to spend the night at that friend’s house after they have gotten drunk because they know those parent’s won’t care. Or they’ll get high in the bedroom of another friend because their parents never come upstairs to check on them. Don’t give them an excuse to do something stupid and not come home!

3. Enforce an “accountability rule.”

You can tailor this rule to fit your family and what makes you comfortable. For my family, I had to kiss my mom every time I came home, even if she was already asleep. I didn’t understand this “rule” until later when I realized that she was making sure I didn’t come home smelling like alcohol or drugs.

I would say that my parents trusted me in High School and their actions showed that, but they also were smart enough to set up some guidelines that would hold me accountable.

Maybe you make them wake you up when they get home to make sure everything is okay, or maybe you are a night-owl and want to stay awake until they walk through the front door. Whatever rule you set, find a way to hold your teenager accountable!

4. Keep conversation open.

While boundaries and rules are good for teenagers, so is healthy communication with their parents! If you want to keep your teenagers safe, the best way to do that is to be aware of what is going on in their life.

If you already talk to your teenager regularly and share life, keep doing that! If you don’t talk and don’t know where to start, read this blog on how to get the most out of your teen and the conversations you have. You can keep the conversation open by listening well, asking good questions and remaining invested in their life.

5. Be cool without being too cool.

Be a place where your teenager and other teenagers feel like they can come for a good time and a listening ear. If you are worried about the rules of other households, become a house where teens want to be but that will also be safe! Bake cookies, grill out, let them have game nights. Open up your house to be a place where they can gather without needing alcohol or drugs.

Also, it is important to be a safe place for your child and others to come talk and share life. If your teen starts telling you about what’s going on at school or the trouble some friends are getting into, don’t panic! Keep the communication lines open and be there to ask good questions. Stay cool, calm and collected but don’t be “too cool” to set rules and boundaries for your children.

How could you apply these rules to your family? Are there any other rules you have used to keep your teenagers safe during the Summer? We hope you will share them with us and have a safe, fun Summer Break!

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.
About the Rules We Wish Our Parents Set for Us

About the Rules We Wish Our Parents Set for Us

At a recent teen parent support group, we spent a few minutes talking about how we grew up. We shared all kinds of funny stories about the crazy rules and expectations our parents placed upon us, how we rebelled and made things hard on them, and overall reminded ourselves what life was like growing up. It was a great conversation to have, especially with teenage parents.

Because you see, these are young women and men who should still be actively “parented” but are now actively “parenting”. And in some cases, both are going on simultaneously.

There are not too many situations you can be in as an adult volunteer where the student can realistically become the teacher. I’ve had some teen parent groups with teenagers whose children are both older than mine and even more numerous. Needless to say, this can level the playing field a bit and offer some energetic and revealing conversations about what it means to be a parent, no matter how old or young.

One of the questions we pondered during this group revolved around what we wish our parents would have done differently. More specifically, we asked the group to share one rule or expectation that they wish their parents would have had for them that would have been really helpful.

I love this question because it forces teenagers to be honest with themselves about their parents shortcomings, how it might have affected them, and it can even force them to see their parents as humans in light of their own new parenting journey.

The one response that really hit me hard was from a mom who wished her parents would have kept her cell phone out of her room at night. Now, there is a lot to say about this topic specifically (I’ll refer you to this well timed blog article from our friend, Sarah Brooks on this very subject), but I think there is something to hear from this teen mom.

There are certain things we can assume about teenagers and what they want/need. Prevailing logic would suggest teenagers want to be on their phones at all times. This same logic would suggest any attempt to put boundaries and structures on something so sacred (this can be applied to various other things teenagers might find sacred) would be met with all-out war.

With this particular issue, I have seen both sides. While walking through their normal day-to-day lives, to ask a teenager to give up their connectivity via the internet might seem like asking them to lop off one of their appendages. Yet, I have also been on wilderness trips with teenagers where our phones didn’t work and have had them talk with me about the relief they felt from not having to always pay attention to every incoming communication.

But the bigger issue here is finding a way to place healthy boundaries on things like cell phones, time spent with friends, schoolwork, jobs, sports, etc. We assume giving way to anything that brings happiness or immediate fulfillment is always a good thing. But in the wake of this, balance is lost. Boundaries become murkier and less clear.

  • The bedroom is no longer for sleeping, it’s for texting.
  • Our sports are no longer for exercise and fun, but for winning at all costs.
  • School is no longer for education, but for living up to unrealistic expectations
  • Family time is no longer a foundation but more for utility. 

These boundaries are important to learn early and often for teenagers. And while it is hard to get them to admit, they really appreciate someone older and wiser coming in and restoring order and balance through setting up healthy boundaries for the things we enjoy.

So, what do you think? How have you set boundaries for your students and how have they responded? How have you failed at this and done better? Let us know!

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.