# 1 Tip to Engage and Connect with Teens in 2015

Even before 2015 started, my inbox and Facebook newsfeed began to be inundated with articles and links to promises of a better year.

“30 days to a better you.”
“Get fit and feel great in 60 days.”
“10 Tips for being the best you in 2015.”
“How to Start Over in 2015.”
” 4.7 ways to have more pillow fights in 2015.”

Ok I exaggerated on that last one, but you get the point. These are not bad in and of themselves. In fact I signed up to receive emails or PDF’s on how to better myself in 2015 from three authors I enjoy.

Seeing all of these made me wondering, how many people actually finish or follow the 30 days, 60 days or 4.7 tips? I personally have not cracked open one of the three PDF’s I received promising to better my life in 2015 and it is already mid January.

When I think about building positive relationships with teens, or improving your teen program in 2015, I have just ONE tips. One idea. One thing you can do each day that will make a difference.

Be Intentional.

Thats It, it is that simple.

Let me give you a few examples of being Intentional:

If you volunteer with a youth program, do not show up thinking this is just another volunteer opportunity. Before you even arrive think about what you want to accomplish during your time, what you want to talk about, which teen you might want to follow up with. Be Intentional. Develop a plan for how you are going to serve and connect with teens during your time. “I am going to follow up with Johnny tonight because he was having a rough day last week.” “I am going to learn 5 teens names tonight and something they are interested in.” “I am going to help greet and sign in all of the teens tonight.”

If you run a teen program, do not let the days fly by and fall into the same old routine. Be Intentional each day. Plan a new fun activity each day or week to engage the teens. Think about the teens you have not seen in a while and give them a call/text/email to see how they are doing. If a teen tells you about a TV show, movie or song they like, intentionally take time to check it out. Next time you see them mention it and start a conversation about why they like it.

These are little things that show the teen that you were thinking about them. Not just in that moment but before you even saw them. Before you or they even arrived.

If you are a parent of a teen, don’t just react and hope your teen will attempt to connect with you. Be Intentional. When you first see them after school, Instead of getting on them right away to do their school work, take time to ask them how their day was and truly LISTEN. Surprise them with their favorite snack or trip to their favorite restaurant. Ask them their opinion on topics ranging from daily news to decisions you are making that effect the family. Instead of harping on them about the music they listen to, the show they are watching or game they are playing, take time to ask them why they enjoy it. Sit down and have them teach you the game or watch the show with them.

Just doing something together, something they enjoy, can be a great bonding experience. It is an opportunity to come down to their level for a change and intentionally engage with them.

It shows that you truly care about them and that you are listening and paying attention to them. This is HUGE with teens and they love it.

Over my years of working with teens and consulting on teen programs, I have been blown away by the positive changes that occur when staff and volunteers choose to Be Intentional each day. One of the coolest, sometimes unexpected benefits of this practice is the effect it has on the adult. When you have a specific intention in your mind and you accomplish that, it makes you feel more engaged. It turns your volunteer time from, “I am spending an hour a week serving,” to “I just made an impact.”

In our busy world with tips and tricks to do everything, just chose to do this one thing this year. Be intentional in building relationships with the teens in your life and see where it takes you.

How to Build Positive Relationships with Teens Today: Tips from Teens

The goal of my blog is to help adults understand teens today in order to build positive relationships and assist them in navigating the crazy, unpredictable, emotional time we call adolescents.

I like to engage teens in the conversation for most topics and discussions rather than come at it from the point of view of a bunch of adults sitting in a room assuming we know everything there is to know about teens today.

With this in mind, I recently asked a group of teens the following question:

How can an adult (teachers, coach, parent, teacher, youth minister etc.) build a positive relationship with a teen today?

adult and teenTo avoid feeling like the picture above, follow the tips provided by teens below regarding how to build a positive relationship with teens today:

  • “Adults need to have empathy and try to understand what it is like to be a teen today. Don’t assume everything is the same as it was 10 or 20 years ago when they were teens.”
  • “I think in order to form relationships with teens, adults need to give up some of their power. Adults need to show that just because they are older doesn’t mean that the teen and the adult can’t be “equals,” they need to trust the teens, and trust them a lot. And if something does go wrong the adult needs to walk through the situation and talk about what the teen needs to improve on. Adults shouldn’t be using their age or job as a source of power, we’re all human, we all make mistakes and everyone comes from different backgrounds. Adults should show respect to teens and vice versa.”
  • “Simply be honest and put yourself out there. Don’t sugarcoat things to the teens and be honest. Honesty and being open has always been the most appealing traits that I see in counselors/mentors when consulting one.”
  • “I think the best way is to understand that neither the adult nor teen are better than each other. Also, they need to be accepting that both people make mistakes.”
  • “The adult must be willing to listen to what the teen has to say. Also, the adult must be able to create safe boundaries. Then, the teacher or advisor should spend time with the teen on a weekly basis, this will help the teen become more comfortable with the advisor making it easier for them to open up with the adult.”
  • “the easiest way to communicate with the teen. Teens want someone they can open up to. It is relaxing. They can proceed to talk with the teen without becoming to formal, as we still are younger. It helps the most when they can personally relate to something you are going through or need help with. It gives off a comfortable vibe and the teen is more likely to open up.”
  • “I believe the best way for a positive relationship between teens and adults would be for their to be trust and a lack of judgment coming from the adult. Teens need someone to trust with their problems and need to know there is no judgement afterward.”

I want to reiterate that the statements above are direct quotes from teens when asked the question, “how can an adult build a positive relationship with a teen today?”

One point I would make after reviewing this list, is to take a moment and think about the questions from the teens perspective. For example, we read the statement “adults need to give up some of their power” from one of the teens. That statement causes the hairs on the back of our necks begin to stand as we say, “but I am the parent, the teacher the coach and you are the child.”

When I speak with teens I do not get the sense that they want us to abandon our authority and just be their friend. What I hear them saying is include me and ask me my opinion. Let me teach you something that I enjoy or let me help solve a problem. Often I see adults who only lecture and never listen or only tell and never ask. I am not saying you need to give all decision-making power to the teen, but including them in the process can go a long way in building a relationship with them.

What tips do you have for building positive relationships with a teen today?

YouTube’s Growing Influence on Teens

I want you to think back to when you were a teen. What celebrities were most influential on your life?

My guess is that it would be an actor/actress from your favorite TV show or movie, a player on your favorite sports team or a musician in a band. Personally I was a huge fan of Sylvester Stallone and Dennis Rodman. Let me clarify that I was a fan of pre-freak-show Rodman when he was with the Detroit Pistons and they won back-to-back championships.

Looking back, my infatuation with these celebrities was wrapped up in the character they rockyplayed or the effort they displayed and less about who they were. I idolized Sylvester Stallone’s character Rocky. I was drawn in by the dedication, determination and will he displayed. I mirrored my style of play on the basketball court after Rodman’s. Diving for loose balls and recklessly going up for rebounds against bigger guys. That was the sum of what I knew of them, yet they were powerfully influential on my life.

Teens today want more. For someone to have influence on them they want to know their story, know they have things in common and feel that that person, in-part, represents their own aspirations in life. I believe this is true for two reasons.

One, teens have greater access to information than I did when I was a teen. They have the ability like never before to find out more about a celebrity beyond what they see on stage or the big screen. Finding out more can make the teen more or less interested in that person. If I would have known some things about Rodman back when I was a teen I may not have held him in such high regard.

Two, teens today have a strong desire for authenticity and affinity. To truly know someone else and feel connected to others. If they learn that they have similar interests and passions of a celebrity they like, the more they will feel connected to that  person. And ultimately that celebrity will begin to be influential on them.

With today’s teens desires to connect with others and the rise of the internet, it comes as no surprise then that YouTube personalities (A person or group that gains widespread recognition on the internet and beyond for videos they post on YouTube) are rising in the ranks of celebrities who are influential to teens today.

youtube-stars-shine-brightestIf you are not familiar with YouTube channels, here is a quick snapshot. Individuals and or groups create videos of varying lengths (sometimes multiple videos each day) on all sorts of topics from their daily life, dance, music, beauty/fashion tips, complete randomness,  or their own mini-shows. My kids personally love Kid Snippets videos where kids do the voice-overs for adults acting out situations. They are pretty funny. Some channels build a solid following with millions of subscribers and views on their videos.

Personally I have stumbled upon entertaining channels myself and before I knew it I had viewed a dozen videos by the same creator. I even found myself checking back for new content days later. Teens are digital natives and big users of YouTube and they are doing the same thing. For instance, a recent survey by Variety magazine “found the five most influential figures among Americans ages 13-18 are all YouTube celebrities,” not your traditional movie actors or actresses.

I asked Leo, a teen from southern California, to give me his thoughts on YouTube Celebrities being influential on teens today. Here are his thoughts:

In my opinion, I believe that they are influential and popular because they are associated with comedy, youth and consistency. YouTube stars tend to post content frequently, therefore gaining a much greater audience than say a mainstream actor who only comes out in a movie once or twice a year.

Most of the mainstream media actors do not have the interaction that the YouTube stars have due to the fact that they have no form of communication with their fans other than their social media. Even then they’re very limited towards what they can say. On the other hand, YouTube stars have the option of interacting with their audience through the form of a video which they can post at any time they wish. They have the liberty of voicing their opinion on their channel.

If you compare Felix Kjellberg (a Swedish video game commentator on YouTube known as PewDiePie) to Jennifer Lawrence, Felix posts content every single day. About two videos and each ranging about 7-10 minutes long. That has led to his HUGE success now with over 31 Million subscribers. Therefore he has a better interaction with his fan base community. Jennifer Lawrence on the other hand comes out in a hit movie every couple of months for about 2 hours. This amount of content and interaction plays big role because unlike Jennifer, Felix has public exposure everyday which keeps him very relevant in the media. What big celebrities struggle with is the fact that they cannot stay very relevant in the media. Right after a big movie or TV show is released, they just gradually lose the interests of the public.

If you still do not think teens are being influenced by YouTube stars, look at the fact the bethany-mota-at-teen-choice-awards-2014-in-los-angeles_21Teen Choice awards now have a category to recognize Web Stars. Bethany Mota and Tyler Oakley took home the 2014 honors for Web Star Female and Male by the way. Side Note: Bethany is also on the current season of Dancing with the Stars. Which leads to a whole other conversation around brands using YouTube Celebrities to influence teens for their brand. We will save that for another time.

Youth Worker and Parent Tips:

  • Learn who some of the popular YouTube celebrities are. Common Sense Media has an article titled 10 YouTube Stars Your Kids Love that i recommend you start with.
  • Use YouTube to create a common connection with your teen(s). Find a YouTube channel that you and your teen(s) both enjoy and is appropriate for their age and watch the videos together. Like I mentioned earlier my kids, who are not teens yet, enjoy Kid Snippets and we occasionally watch them together.
  • Have a discussion with your teen(s) about their favorite YouTube channels, why they like those channels and what is it about the videos that connects with them. You might learn something about your teen that you did not know or identify opportunities for you to connect better with them.

Oh Crap: The Fears of Teens Today

Have you ever seen a teen hesitate to do something you knew they were good at? Paint a picture, participate in a sport, speak in front of a group, be a leader? More than likely they hesitate because there is a fear holding them back.

I would bet very few of us, if any, made it through our teen years without some fears deterring us from participating in an activity or working to accomplish a goal. I remember being in class and not completing an assignment because I was afraid I would get it wrong. Logically, I thought it was easier to just not do the assignment than to get it wrong. I even recall deciding not to attend certain events in college, out of fear I wouldn’t fit in.

In my previous post I talked about the hopes and dreams teens have today. When asked, teens expressed dreams of graduating high school and making a difference in the world. With that same group of teens, I also asked them what fears they have.

I learned teens today have a lot of fears. In fact when I asked about their hopes and fears, they responded with considerably more fears. This was true in both the sheer number of responses, and also the diversity of responses.

This did not surprise me too much, as the teenage years are filled with change. The world around them is changing as they grow up and gain more responsibility. Their bodies are changing. Their brain is allowing them to digest the world in ways they previously have not been able to. Many adults experience fear in the midst of change, so it is no surprise to learn teens are filled with fears and anxiety.

scared teenHere are some fears teens have today:

  • Not being good enough (in their own eyes & their parents eyes) or that they will fail
  • That they will be forgotten, not noticed or alone
  • That they will not do well in high school or college
  • That they will not achieve their dreams or accomplish their goals in life
  • Fear of death
  • Stuck doing something they do not enjoy
  • That college will be totally different from their expectations, and that it will be difficult
  • How society will view them, and what others will say and think about them
  • That they are a waste of space and cannot do or achieve anything in life

As I read these now, they make me sad. I can remember having some of those exact feelings as a teen and young adult. I had my whole life in front of me. It was exhilarating and scary all at the same time, and I was still trying to figure out how to navigate it. To top it off, everyone expected that I would be successful and do great things. At times I believed this and at other times I didn’t.

We need to realize that while teens may seem relaxed and carefree at times, there are very real fears that exist within them. I have witnessed guys graduating from high school go from goofing around and playing basketball one minute, to having a blank stare on their faces as they realized their fears about their uncertain future.

Parent and Youth Worker Tips:

  • Ask them what their fears are and don’t criticize or belittle their responses. As adults we may know the fear is irrational, but it is very real to them and the world as they see it.
  • Provide them opportunities to experience new things, especially as young teens. We often fear the unknown. If we provide opportunities and experiences in a safe group setting, this may help to decrease their anxiety of the unknown.
  • Share the fears you had as a teen. Talk about how you overcame those fears, or what opportunities you missed out on because you let your fear control you.
  • Focus on their hopes and dreams and help them to be action-oriented in striving towards their goals. It is good to acknowledge the fears but we don’t want to dwell in them.

Teens today need people in their lives rooting for them, supporting them and cheering them on. Not crushing their hopes and dreams. Allow your teen(s) dream big and help them overcome their fears on the way to achieving their dreams.

Oh Joy: The Hopes and Dreams of Teens Today

What do you see when you look at a teenager? Do you see a goofy kid lacking responsibility? Or do you see an aspiring young adult who wants to change the world? Or maybe something else?

Often, we see an element of the first. We witness a young person navigating their way through uncertain times – not a kid, but definitely not an adult.

Often this emerging, vulnerable person has a lot of passion! Although it may be for something seemingly materialistic, like the latest movie or a pair of shoes.

hopeful teenHowever, my experiences have shown me there is more to teens than this. I believe they have untapped passion. They have dreams and goals for their life, even if they have never spoken them out loud before. They are there, sometimes deep down inside.

I remember as a teen I dreamed of hitting the winning shot in the championship basketball game. I had goals to become a police officer, to serve others and help those in need. I had hopes of just fitting in. If we think back to our teen years, the majority of us had hopes, dreams and goals too.

Knowing someone’s hopes and dreams can tell you a lot about that person. I have been blown away by some of the deep thoughts teens and friends have shared when I’ve taken the time to ask about their hopes, and listen to their answers. I still remember a friend who told me about his dream to open up a sock store in the mall. It was a weird idea, but he was passionate about it.

If you work with teens or have teens, I encourage you to ask them what their hopes and dreams are. Like any relationship, having a positive bond established will contribute to the quality and depth of the conversation.

I recently asked a group of teens what their hopes and dreams were. Here are some of their responses:

  • To achieve greatness
  • To be a role model for younger kids
  • To be successful
  • To be happy, achieve my dreams and be stress free
  • To graduate high school and go to college
  • To be happy in my career, what ever it ends up being
  • To be successful in college
  • To fit in and be the best I can be
  • To choose the right path
  • To help make a difference in the world
  • To be a teacher and impact future students lives

Many of the teens I spoke to had a level of uncertainty about what exactly they wanted to do or be when they got older, but they did know they wanted to be successful. They defined success as making a difference, being happy and persevering when dealing with challenging situations or failure. None of them defined success as being rich.

Parent and Youth Worker Tips:

  • As you build a relationship and get to know your teens, take time to ask them what their hopes and dreams are. You can do this in a small group setting or one on one. If they don’t know that is ok. They may be embarrassed to say, or may have trouble articulating their thoughts. In a small group setting, writing, drawing or creating a collage out of magazine clippings can be a meaningful way for them to express their passion.
  • Share what your hopes and dreams were as a teen with them, no mater how silly or far-fetched. If you did not achieve those dreams, or perhaps went down another path, take time to explain that process. Teens will likely be comforted to hear how common it is to change course. Many teens fear their current dreams will not be satisfying in the long run. If you accomplished your dreams share with them how you did it. It can be helpful for teens to hear what steps you took, failures you experienced along the way, and how you overcame adversity.
  • Make a point to practice sensitivity with teens, and do not laugh or poke fun at their hopes and dreams.
  • Encourage them to pursue their dreams and to embrace their passions. My parents knew of mine and my brothers dreams of becoming police officers and connected us with a local law enforcement explorers program. Find opportunities to explore, experience and dive into their passions and dreams.

The next post in this series will focus on the fears teens experience today. Stay tuned!

One Simple Thing You Can Do to Make a Big Difference in Teens Lives

Every time I speak with youth workers or parents, I continually share the one idea that I feel will make a difference in teens lives today. One concept that if you use it with your teens over time, you will see a difference. A difference in your relationship. A difference in their respect for you. And a difference in the impact you can have on their lives.

The great thing about this ideas is how simple it is. Are you ready for it?


Simple right? Let me unpack this concept for you.

If you work with teens, before they even arrive for your program, have a plan in mind. I don’t just mean your program plan.

For Youth workers it looks like:

  • Having intentional plans about specific youth you want to connect with. Maybe a teen who you know had a bad day the previous day. Or one who had a big test today. Or had a court appearance. Seriously make a list of the teens you want to connect with and keep it in your pocket.
  • Have specific conversations in mind that you want to have with teens. About character traits. About events happening in pop culture that might connect to elements of your program.
  • Think about teens who you can complement them on what they have been doing well recently. Or just share how much you appreciate them.
  • Intentionally plan fun! We often get stuck in our program goals and forget to have fun. Teens want to have fun. Plan jokes, fun Minute to Win it games, Minute mysteries, icebreakers etc.
  • Be intentional with your staff and volunteers.
    • Have staff review a list of teens in your program. Identify which ones you know well and which ones you don’t. Then intentionally make efforts to reach out to the ones you don’t know as well. Make it your goal that day to learn one thing about one of those teens. If you continually do this, over a month you will know a decent amount about that teen.
    • If you volunteer with teens make sure you connect with the staff or other volunteers briefly to develop a game plan for the day. Who is going to lead discussions, who is leading activities, what topics may have been discussed on days when you were not present.

For Parents it can look like:

  • Intentionally make plans to hang out with your teen and do something they want to do. Schedule dates with them. My father-in law did this with all four of his daughters. He frequently made time to connect with each of them one-on-one, to listen to them and to connect with them. I have already started building daddy-daughter dates into my routine with my two girls even though they are not teens yet.
  • Write down the values and characteristics you want your teens to have and then figure out creative ways to introduce those to your teens. If you want them to be problem solvers invite them to help you the next time you have to fix an issue in your house, but let them come up with the solutions and try them out. If you want them to have a giving spirit, include them in conversations about what charities your family gives donations to. Even better, give them a set amount of money that they can donate to a charity of their choice. Walk alongside them as they investigate which charity they want to support.
  • Pay attention to what their favorite snacks are, TV shows, Movies or magazines. And when they are having a rough day or week, surprise them with their favorite snack or magazine.
  • Ask how their day was and truly listen. If they don’t respond be more specific, ask about a certain class, or teacher, or test, or activity they participate int.

Chap Clark in his book Hurt makes a powerful statement regarding adolescence today. He says, “we as adults who care have a long way to go to penetrate the layers of protection that keep us from being one more disappointment (to teens) in a world filled with them. But I am convinced that we are welcome there, if we mean it. And they need us to mean it.”

Do whatever you can not to be a disappointment to the teens in your life. I believe it all starts with being intentional.

How to Connect with Teens

Working with teens for the last 13 years, I have learned something very important. No two teens are alike. Therefore we can’t use the same tactics in dealing with every teen.

Here is one example.

Think about your youth group, your teens or teens you work with. You probably have a teen or two that are very talkative and will answer any question you ask (even if they don’t know the answer). These are the teens that you know when they are in the room because they are very engaged and active. In contrast you probably have a few teens that are more quiet and reserved. The ones that would not answer a question if no-one else was in the room let alone a large group. These are the teens that if they don’t show up for an event, you might not realize that they are not there.

I recently heard two great ideas about how to engage and connect with this second group of teens.

The first idea comes from two ladies I volunteer with at my church’s youth group. Shout out to Andi and Nicole! During our weekly youth group, they meet with a small group of high school girls to discuss the message shared that evening, chat, ask questions and support each other. They know not all of their girls feel comfortable asking questions in a group setting and have come up with an awesome option to connect with them.

We have assigned lockers for each of our high school small groups, and Andi and Nicole keep a journal in that locker. At any time their girls can grab the journal and write a question in it, share a prayer request or just write down their thoughts. Andi and Nicole will check the journal periodically and respond to what the girls have written. This provides space for the girls who might not feel comfortable asking a question in the group environment. Great Job Andi and Nicole! Parents, I think keeping a journal in your home to converse with your teen would also work well.

The second idea I heard from several sources including conversations with parents of teens.

Have you ever seen a teen blush when you try to say something positive to them? Or when you ask them a question that might embarrass them? Yes and Yes. The thing is, teens want to know someone is proud of them and teens value the opinions of their parents and adult role models. They just might not show it or know how to accept it yet.

Most teens today own a cell phone and love to text. Use that to your advantage. Text your teen encouragement, that you are proud of their accomplishments or to continue making good choices. Have short conversations via text with your ten. This should not be an end all but it is a great way to let them know you care and start the conversation.

These are just two ideas that I have heard recently and wanted to share. The important message to take away is keep trying. If the method you are using to communicate with your teen is not working, try something else, be creative, ask your teen(s) how you can communicate with them and make sure you are creating opportunities to connect with all of your teens.

Positive Teen Trends in 2014

I came across an inforgraphic called, “2013 In Review- Being a Teen In 2013” a few weeks ago and have not been able to get it out of my mind since. It was created by the website Help Your Teen Now and shows what teens were exposed to in 2013.

20-Thirteen-In-Review-Infographic-edited2013 In Review-Being a Teen In 2013 focuses on trends that were popular with teens in 2013 such as sexting, drug trends like smoking alcohol and Molly, bullying and of course the list cannot be complete without twerking. This list makes me sad for several reason.

First it is correct. I shared this infographic with about 40 teens and they all said the same thing, “This is pretty much 100% accurate.” Many even shared stories about seeing these topics played out in their social circles. Seeing teens bullied on twitter, knowing a teen who brought a gun to school  and how the growing use of technology has affected them.

Second, it is very negative. I know that the purpose of this particular infographic was to show what teens are exposed to and what they have to navigate today. But it makes me sad because it reflects the reality of what we think of teens. When I have conversations about teens today, these are often the topics adults bring up. When we think about teens we almost automatically think of the negative.

We don’t think about the 2.5 million teens and young adults taking action through DoSomething.org, a not-for-profit focused on young people and social change. One of their most popular campaigns is Teens for Jeans, where teens collect and donate jeans to be given to homeless youth. In 6 years 3.5 million pairs of jeans have been collected by teens for the cause.

We don’t think about the teens who are making a difference in their communities, like the winners of the 2013 Peace First Prize. “These are youth peacemakers who are focused on creating peaceful schools and communities.” Seriously, check them out, you will be impressed by the positive things these young people are creating and leading.

We don’t think about the two teens who created the twitter account @HistoryInPics, a twitter account with almost 900,000 followers focused on sharing historical pictures with brief description.

When people think about teens, I want them to think about all the positive trends associated with teens today. Here is what I propose.

  • As an adult, seek out positive stories about teens and make sure you have a balanced perspective of the reality of teens today. Not just the negative trendsw the media tells you. Watch a few TedXTeen videos and be inspired. Read articles on Huffington Post Teen, they often feature positive stories on teens and articles written by teens giving their perspective on current teen culture.
  • Share these positive stories with the teens in your life. If all teens hear and see is the negative, they will assume that it is normal. They may begin to act it out themselves or at least be complacent with the negative. If you surround them with positive stories they will realize there is another option and more available to them than just the negative.
  • Engage your teens in groups focused on the positive. The reality is teens are very peer driven. If their peer group is focused on the negative, they will often focus on the negative as well. The opposite can also be true if their peer group is focused on the positive.

Will you join me in this challenge of having a positive view of teens today and helping them have a positive view themselves? My hope is in 2014 we can have an infographic showing all the great things that teens navigated during the year.

The Garbage Teens are Watching

I hear it all the time. Adults complaining about the garbage teens watch on TV. Shows often filled with violence and sexual activity. I don’t try to defend these shows, some of them are really trashy. What I remind adults is that teens are connecting with and enjoying these shows for a reason.

TV shows provide an opportunity to talk with teens about issues they are facing, positive or negative character traits and their perspectives on life. In order to create this dialogue, we need to not immediately dismiss a show as garbage, but instead engage teens in a conversation about the show.

Parent and Youthworker Tip:

  •  Pay attention to what your teens are watching on TV. Once you know what they are watching, do your research. Common Sense Media does a great job of reviewing TV shows,providing parents with a guide to what age group the show is appropriate for and a summary of the show contains.
  • Watch an episode of the show yourself. With shows available On Demand or streaming services you can easily watch a show at your convenance. You may find redeeming characteristics to focus on instead of the negative reviews you have heard about the show.  Focus on the positive where possible.
  • Ask open-ended questions. Instead of judging the show, ask a question. Something along the lines of, “That guy Joe on the show was a jerk to that girl, what is his deal?” This allows your teen to respond, share their perspective and opens an opportunity for a conversation with your teen.

With that being said, what TV shows are teens watching? Based on recent teen award shows and a survey I did with teens, here are five shows that are currently popular with teens. (This is by no means an exhausted list)

teen wolf

Teen Wolf: Shown on MTV Monday’s at 10pm (currently between seasons). Episodes are available on Hulu and on MTV’s website.


family guyFamily Guy: Seen on the Fox network Sunday’s at 9/8c and reruns are available Monday, Wednesday and Thursday nights on TBS. You can also catch episodes of Family Guy on Hulu, Netflix and on the Fox website.

pllPretty Little Liars (or PLL as it is refered to by the teens): Seen on ABC Family network Tuesdays at 8/7c. Episodes can also be viewed on Hulu, Netflix and the ABC Family website.

SpongeBob Squarepants: Seen on Nickelodeon ALOT. No seriously it is on multiple times every day. Episodes are also available on Hulu and the Nickelodeon website.

gleeGlee: Seen on Fox Thursdays at 8/8c. Episodes are also available on Hulu, Netflix and the Fox website.

I purposely did not provide descriptions of any of these shows because I have a challenge for you. Ask a teen if they watch any of these  five TV shows. If they do, ask which one they like the most and have them give you a short synopsis about the show and why they connect with it. Then email (or post in the comments) the synopsis and I will add it to this post. So we have a teen perspective on each of the shows.

Teen Slang: What is My Teen REALLY Saying.

Teen’s are always coming up with words that perplex the average adult but connect with a fellow teen. Here are some current Teen Slang words defined.

  • YOLO is still popular with teens but fading compared to this time last year. It means You Only Live Once. For more on YOLO check out my previous post “Whats Up with Yolo?”
  • Swag means a person has their own cool style that represents themselves. As one teen told me, “Swag is a term used to define people who have style, but it’s wildly overused.”
  • Before Miley Cyrus’s performance this week at the MTV VMA’s, not many adults had heard of “Twerking.” Now it is all over the news. USA Today even put together a little clip explaining Twerking. Several teens explained it to me as “a dance move where you are shaking your butt.” Twerking is usually in sexual suggestive manner and has caused many schools to ban “Twerking” and dances.
  • Turnt Up” has two meanings. Some teens shared that they use it to describe a party that was awesome. A teen might say, “That party was Turnt Up!” A second definition is a little more concerning. It is in reference to getting high or wasted. For example, “I’m about to get turnt up” or “He got so turnt up at the party last night.”
  • Ratchet is one of the most popular terms I am hearing lately. Teens were pretty consistent in describing what it meant. It is used towards another person and means dirty, skanky, nasty, ugly, not classy etc. It is most often used towards females in a derogatory manner.

One teen pointed out that most of these phrases became popular because of their integration and use in Hip Hop music. He went on to say that he does not feel many teens know the true definition of the words but use them because they are incorporated in popular music.

Parent and Youth Worker Tips:

  • Ask. If you hear a word you do not recognize ask what it means. I am surprised how often teens are straight forward with me and tell me what a slang word means.
  • Look it up. If you don’t know a phrase used in a TV show, movie or song Google it and educate yourself.
  • Use it. Ok not really. But if I ever had a teen who would not share with me what a word meant I would often ask them if it was ok for me to use it or call them that phrase. Real quick I would learn if this was a negative term or not based off of their reaction.