I’ve just returned from a 10-day mission trip, spent with about 20 adults – and almost 60 teenagers (many of them my former students). Every day began with breakfast at 8, followed by a morning of planning lessons for VBS (Vacation Bible School). Around 11 we’d pack our lunches and head to our village, where we’d lead VBS from 12:30-2:30 and soccer camp from 3-4:30, with only a half-hour break in between. We’d head back to camp for dinner, followed by more planning, some evening activities, and campfire. Because of the long hours of daylight, it was hard to get to bed before 11:00. The next day we’d start over again.
Because this was my 6th year on this trip, I knew Wednesday would be a tough day. The newness was wearing off, fatigue was setting in, and Friday seemed a long way off. I gathered my team of 28 around a picnic table and explained why this day might be the hardest. Then I said, “I have some words for you: drowsy, yawning, fatigue, exhaustion, sleepy, tired. . .” At this point Kai, one of my college-aged leaders and a seasoned veteran, hunched over and quietly rolled off the bench. As everyone laughed, I thanked him for helping me to make my point.
I then went on, “Let me give you some new words: Energy! Enthusiasm! Excitement! Pushing through! Stamina! Peppiness!” They got into the spirit and called out more words: “Fun! Happiness! Joy!” Their eyes got brighter, they sat up straighter, and most began to smile. I told them it was a mental trick – if they dwelled on how exhausted they were and kept thinking in terms of, “I’m so tired – when can we leave?” they’d make themselves truly miserable. But if they thought in more positive terms – “I’m having a good time; I can do this” – and focused on what they were doing rather than on how they were feeling, they’d be surprised at how much better the day would be.
They took the lesson to heart, and we had a great day. In the heat of the afternoon, red-faced, sweaty, and obviously in need of some rest, Erika, a 15-year-old team member, kept repeating one of our camp songs, “I’m alive. . .awake. . .alert. . .enthusiastic. . .” She wasn’t singing loudly nor energetically, but neither was she complaining. I smiled at her effort.
The lesson here is that teens can be taught to have more positive attitudes. Have a discussion rather than issuing an order – “You’d better improve that attitude, Mister!” – or whining at your teen – “Why do you always have to be so negative?” And be sure you’re modeling the attitude you want in your teen!
And here are some words for you as you parent a teen: Encouragement! Patience! Understanding! EMPATHY! (You knew I’d get it on the list. . .)