The Character Movement

Kids These Days

When people find out I work with kids, they often want to talk about how life for children today is so different from when they were growing up. Technology or globalization or the media have created a world that is unrecognizable from the past.

And it’s true. The world is different.

“When I first arrived, we’d hear about kids who would write mean notes,” says Paul Andress, middle school counselor at South View in Edina, Minn. “Then, as soon as three-way calling came along, they were able to trash a kid on the phone. Then it became about IM-ing, prank calls on cell phones, texting and cyber-bullying. Bullying and disrespect has gotten a lot more sophisticated and a lot more rampant.”

Yet growing up is also exactly the same.

“We forget how difficult middle school and high school are,” says former Youth Frontiers retreat facilitator and current school counselor, Jamie Zuel. “Who can you trust? What do you believe in? What is a good friend? There is a strong need to belong. During the retreats we’ll tell kids, ‘Don’t cut off your arm so someone else will put their arm around you.’ But that’s how they feel. They’d literally give up an arm to feel of sense of belonging. These things haven’t changed since we were kids and they are unlikely to change any time soon.”

At Youth Frontiers we use stories to build relational trust and engage empathy. By finding common ground and sharing our challenges and failures when we were their age, we’ve found that kids are more willing to open up to hearing our messages around character.

The other day, my daughter Tess wanted to get a toy at Target. I said “no” and she started to whine. I stopped us in the aisle and said, “I remember when I was your age and wanted a toy and my dad said ‘no’ and that made me sad and angry. I felt just like you do right now. I understand how you are feeling. And you are still not getting that toy.”

This simple moment of connection helped defuse the emotion of the moment. It did not take away her wanting the toy, but it took away some of the pain of the want.

Our kids want to know us and connecting through stories is a simple yet powerful tool.

Optional exercise: The next time you have a free moment, take some time to brainstorm stories that you can tell your kids that will help them know you better. Of course, use discretion and keep your stories age-appropriate. Look for those stories that will help you relate to whatever your child is struggling with at that time, whether it’s getting homework done, getting along with people or feeling like they belong at school.

Bonus idea: Pull out an old school picture from when you were your kid’s age. Talk about the kind of kid you were. Who were you friends and what were they like? What was your teacher like? What did it feel like to go to school, be in the band or play sports? A little family time spent in the past can make the present seem a lot less scary.

Double bonus: Listen to the song, “Kids These Days“, from my friend and colleague, Jonny Herchert.

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