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!

A Teens View of Social Media

One of the best way to understand teens, learn their perspectives on various topics and what the current teen trends are is to ask them questions and to listen to them. This is a point I share frequently because it is the key to understanding teens and to building relationships with them. Occasionally I will share thoughts and quotes from teens in my post or even let a teen share their views and thoughts on certain topics to help us gain insight.

This week I read a blog post written by a teen talking about her perspectives and thoughts on Social Media. I thought this was a great opportunity to see Social Media from the perspective of a teen. So I asked if I could share their blog post with each of you.

Let me first tell you a little about my guest blogger. Allie is a 19 year- old freshmen at the University of Connecticut majoring in English. Her favorite App is either Twitter or Instagram and her favorite TV show is Suits on the USA network. You can check out Allie’s blog where she writes about life and the transition from being a kid to an adult.

For Your Eyes Only, written by Allie.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, whatever. I love social media. Sosososo much, in facebookfact I spend 70% of my conscious time scrolling through various news feeds—in class, mid conversation, half asleep, I’m basically always online (except when you try to text me, you’ll probably get a response in 3 hours – 2 days). And after spending so much time this way, I’ve realized that a lot of people are misusing social media (or is everyone else doing it right and I’m LIKE TOTALLY using it wrong?!?!). But before I get into what I mean by that I’ll preface with an explanation.

In my opinion: sympathy sucks. I hate being babied, coddled, comforted, the works. Yes, even when I’m upset. Leave me alone. I don’t want or need the “I’m sorry’s” or “Are you okay” or “I’m here for you” especially the pitying looks that come along with it. In my opinion pity helps no one.

twitterTrue authentic friendship and all that jazz is unspoken. I’ll come to you. Likewise, if you’re upset don’t assume I don’t care, I do, I’m giving you the space I know I’d want and sparing the awkward pity exchanges. Again, obviously if we’re friends call me, text me, I’m here. But only if you ask, I’m not going to intrude on your grief, it’s not about me and I don’t want to make it about me.

So what, does this have to do with social media? Ahhh great question, and so you shall see… Cue the transition!

On Facebook I have 700+ friends (after the post graduation purge), 120+ twitter followers (I only follow like 70 people, so I’m pretty popular OKAY), 80+ Instagram followers (okay so instagrammy pictures just suck), and like 4 people who snapchat me regularly. Basically the epitome of popularity, RIGHT? Anyways, my followings and friendships are considered small. But seriously, are there really more than 700 people who I can call my friend? Or that I take interest in the happenings of their lives? Heeeeellllllll naw. Let’s face it, if these pages actually reflected my close friendships there’d be about 10 people on each (maybe fewer).

But is that what social media is really about? Facebook is a place to make connections with old and new friends. It’s for sharing pictures, videos, little tiny snippets of our lives to the people we’ve encountered along the way. Twitter is even less of that, can you really form or upkeep bonds in 140 characters or less? Again, I repeat: heeeeellllllll naw. I follow comedians, celebrities, parody accounts, NYC_Blonde (<3333), and sure my friends too. Twitter is about laughs, tiny nuggets of information, and the sharing of non-problems like tripping in public or complaining about the weather. And the same goes for Instagram and snapchat. These are public forums, and most times open to anyone and everyone.

So the problem is, that people are using these places to air dirty laundry and to express serious problems. I am definitely not saying that you’re problems aren’t real or that what you’re going through isn’t tough. Not at all. But I am trying to be realistic. Realistically, how many of your 100+ followers actually care? How many of them will actually want to help you. Oh yeah, I’m sure you’ll get plenty of “keep your head up” replies or “stay strong” comments. But how many of them are invested enough in your life to share your pain? How many actually have your phone number and can call you to make sure you’re okay?

And believe you me that I do not want even a fraction of my followers to try to comfort me. I sleep easier knowing I have Madison on speed dial and that Taylor will run across campus to see me. And that my other close friends, no matter how far away will sit with me in silence on the phone until I want to talk. Moral of this too long story: you have real friends, use them. Because when Facebook and Twitter go the same way as MySpace, most of your ‘friends’ will disappear.

A Teen Perspective on the MTV Video Music Awards Show

Each year I make an effort to watch the MTV Video Music Awards. I find that the awards show offers a glimpse into current teen culture.  What music is popular with teens, what actors and artists are popular, fashion trends and much more. When I watch the show and try to decipher what I am viewing and put it into context with where teen culture is at I am coming from an adult perspective.  One thing I have learned over my years working with teens is if you really want to understand whats going on with teens and more about their culture you need to ask teens themselves.  With that in mind, I decided to ask a teen who was watching the MTV Video Music Awards to write a guest post for me sharing his review and opinion as a teen.  Check out what 18-year-old DeQuan from New Jersey had to say about this years VMA’s.

So it was that time of year again. That time where the biggest names in music that appeal to most people under the age of 25 get together. That’s right I’m talking about the MTV Video Music Awards. This year marked the 29th anniversary of the ongoing award show. This year’s host was Kevin Heart, no doubt because of the well received reactions to the opening he did at last year’s show. Kevin was a laugh riot throughout the night making jokes about what is going on in the pop culture world.  

There was no huge disagreement amongst fans as to who won what this year.  Chris Brown taking home best Male Video while Nicki Minaj took home best female video. Best Electronic Video went to Calvin Harris while Drake and Lil Wayne took the award for the Hip-Hop category. If there was one complaint about this year’s show perhaps it would have been the fact that MTV doesn’t separate groups and solo artists.

One Direction took home the best new artist award and there was no doubt that they would. Since they debuted their hit single, “What Makes You Beautiful,” it’s been topping the charts everywhere. They even preformed it at the closing ceremony for the 2012 Olympics in London over the summer. They were up against Frank Ocean whose performance was a surprise to everyone and became one of the most talked about performances on twitter with over 30,000 tweets. In my opinion, separating groups and solo artists, would allow some artist’s to stand a better chance at winning. Not that I don’t like One Direction, I enjoy them very much and I have their entire album, however others in that category were Fun and I wanted both groups to win. Perhaps if there was a category for best new groups it would give exposure to more groups and solo artists alike.

Other performances that took the night were those of Pink who played tribute to herself both with her opening song “Get this party started” and by swinging through the air as she did during her highly acclaimed 2009 performance. Also, one can’t forget Alicia Keys whose performances are always memorable and star-studded. She was nothing short of magnificent. Perhaps the most anticipated performance of the night and the one I definitely looked forward to was the performance of the absolutely flawless Taylor Swift. Her new number one smash hit, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” which became the most digitally downloaded songs only two weeks after its release.  Taylor’s performance was very upbeat and had the entire crowd ecstatic and hyped. It’s definitely one for the VMAs history books.

Overall I think we can all say this year’s awards went off without a hitch. There was even attention drawn to Chris Brown hugging Rihanna, really expressing that the vibe of the night was peaceful and just about celebrating music. Special nod to Kevin for really keeping the show flowing as well

On another note, this show does showcase a part of Teen Culture in terms of music as well as other mediums.  This was seen by some of the guests in the audience (Twilight Cast, Dwight Howard, Jersey Shore Cast). I would say that the MTV VMA’s is an accurate way to judge teen culture. Many of the presenters are popular among teen audiences, although many of them were there to remind us that they still exist and that they have an upcoming project.

As far as they way many of them act I feel that it’s just apart of the brand they’ve established for themselves (Nicki Minaj for example). The unfortunate truth is that we are a generation that likes to go uncensored and unfiltered. We like talking about topics and subjects that in the past would be considered very touchy. The problem is we don’t know where to draw that line. Rihanna speaking about wanting someone to be her “sex slave” was a bit much. However, most teens don’t realize the true messages behind the performances, for most of us it’s about the visual and the beat.

To an extent, as a teen it does bother me. I’m not angry with Rihanna, I love her as an artist. But the truth is in this society with the level of success and fame that many of the artists featured on the show have achieved the responsibility of being a role model. As an author of a series of books for young adults, I try very hard to ensure that the right messages are being sent out. The truth is songs like Rihanna’s are acceptable and are considered the norm among most teens. I think there needs to be a limit yes, moments like Kanye’s were frowned upon. And though it was wrong, yes I think promoting songs about sex and drugs aren’t that great either.

What it comes down to unfortunately  is that the MTV VMA’s promote artists that are popular, they have no control of what record industries allow to be put on the radio. But MTV does know that if they want ratings then they must feature those artists who are currently popular. I don’t think any artist is perfect but they should strive harder to send positive messages. An adult watching might get many mixed messages, but the truth is being a teen these days, that’s how our lives are. We get many mixed messages from the media

There you have it. The MTV VMA’s from a teens perspective. I want to thank DeQuan for his guest post. DeQuan will begin studying film making and screenwriting in January at the New York Film Academy. He is the creator and author of the Danger Kids Series with the first novel to be released December 12th. He is an avid blogger and blogs about thing that currently affect his generation from politics to media.