1001 Tips for Military Families - Tip #433

Military Teen Tips: Risk Taking - Tip #433

There is definitely the false notion that all teens are risk takers by nature and that they don’t need encouragement.  But after working with teens for over 15 years, I would say it is a myth.  Teens will take risks on silly things or things that their friends pressure them into but what about getting them to take risks with things that matter, bring them happiness or get them to challenge what they thought they knew about themselves?  The benefit of being a part of a military family is that there are often more opportunities to take risks as your family is moving to new places, changing schools, experiencing absences, friends are moving and changing and there are constant opportunities to experience new things.  Unfortunately, they don’t see those always as benefits.  It will be up to you to not only point out the advantages but also encourage the ‘good’ risks.  Teach your children the difference between foolish and responsible risk taking.

One way to get them inspired is to create a weekly challenge in the house.  They will enjoy creating a list of ‘risk takers’ for you to accomplish and you will be able to do the same for them.

Sample Risks:

Bungee jump

Go on a mountain climbing course

Try out for a team

Ride a horse

Submit a sample of art, writing, etc. to a publication

Start a conversation with someone you think looks interesting

Tell someone why you love them

Go in a hot air balloon

Enter a competition

Tell the truth all day

Cook a meal from scratch

Climb a tree

Go to a scary movie

Tell someone a secret

Volunteer at a homeless centre or seniors home

Snowboard or water ski

Invite people you would like to get to know better to do something

Ask someone out on a date or tell someone how you feel about them

Learn to drive

Introduce yourself to 5 new people a day for a week

Give a speech

Be in a play

Join a club

Those are just a few examples.  Make sure you are willing and prepared to do anything off the list as well.  Once you each complete your challenge talk about what was rewarding, annoying, difficult, etc.  You’ll be amazed by what your teen learns about themselves and what they can accomplish (not to mention what you can do too!).

For more information about our books, tips or resources go to: www.whileyouwereaway.org

Tips for Military Families with Teens - #41

Music and Movies - Tip #41

I won’t try to pretend that I am a movie or music critic nor that I have exceptional taste in either.  My best friend’s husband usually refuses to come to the movies if he knows I chose them!  As for music, I love nothing more than getting down (in the mini-van) with some top 40 radio station.  I believe, however, that this is partly why I am able to connect with the teens I work with.  I take the time to not just talk to them about their likes and dislikes, I actually listen and watch what they do (when I can stomach it).  This makes conversations so much easier as I am able to ask questions that go beyond “Why do you like them?”.  I am able to ask them about what they like in different characters or scenarios.   I can challenge their thinking about particular artists or lyrics.  Whether or not you work with teens or live with them, I HIGHLY recommend that you are able to do the same.  Their minds are being molded by the internet, music, movies and social networking – I think it is important that you know more than surface level things about their primary interests so that you can challenge their thinking in an informed and genuine way.  They are going to be faced with difficult decisions and your teens feel as though you understand even a little about their lives, thoughts, interests or feelings they may reach out when there are the ‘forks in the road’.


* Have the password and access information for their ITunes player on the computer so that you can listen to everything that they have downloaded

* For each thing that you criticize also point out one thing that you like about it (dig really deep if you have to!)

* Check the ringtone on their phone – many of them are actually tunes that come from offensive lyrics

* Make a playlist with all of the songs that you listened to and liked (that they downloaded) and put it in the car

* Look at the ratings of the songs and movies and specifically why they have been rated that way

* Check out sites like: www.kids-in-mind.com that give you a brief outline of what the movie is about and rate it according to sexual content, profanity, violence and gore – it is an easy to navigate site that isn’t too judgemental

This may seem like another task (in an endless list) but you will be rewarded and the benefits will go well beyond the immediate future.  Your kids will get a little bit of a sense that you understand them and they will in turn ask you more questions rather than going to unreliable sources!

For more information about our tips, resources or books go to: http://www.whileyouwereaway.org

To submit a tip of your own, write to: [email protected]

Tips for Military Families - #180

Lists to Motivate - Tip #180

These ideas could be on your fridge door, bathroom door, kitchen door, or any space that you will see each morning before your day really gets into action.  The idea of creating a motivational list is to get your family or yourself thinking positively and re-affirming thoughts and emotions that help you to feel stronger and positive.  Each family member could have their own poster or page with their own list of daily tasks.  All of the tasks on the short list (5 max.) should take only a few seconds to a minute to complete.  You could have a whole family list or have each family member create their own list.  I used a list similar to the one below when my husband was deployed.


Everyday tasks, While You’re Away

Compliment someone
Tell someone that I love them
Say something I like about myself
Do something for someone else
Take a picture
Find something to laugh about
Set a goal for myself to do today
Name 5 things that I am grateful for

The idea behind the list being quick and easy to complete is to get yourself motivated to do things each day that are going to make you and those you love and care about feel good and live your life the best ways that you can without taking a lot of energy or precious time.

For more information about our tips, resources or books go to: http://www.whileyouwereaway.org

To submit a tip of your own to us, write to: [email protected]

More Tips for Military Families with Teens - # 62

Make lists - Tip #62

Making “to do” or “wish lists” is a good way to get your teen focused.  When I was doing guidance, on a military base school, I would often start classes or groups with making lists.  It was a quick way to engage the students and they didn’t complain (much) as it was a simple list and they didn’t have to say it out loud (unless they chose to), be judged on their writing skills and it really got them thinking about what truly matters to them and what they really want that goes beyond the immediate future.

 Lists to get your teens thinking:

*  In one year from now I will be…

* The worst things about being a part of a military family are…

* Top ten things I want to do while ____________ is away are:

* This month I want to…

* The five best things about me are:

* The top ten things I will never want to do in my lifetime are…

I firmly believe that it isn’t enough to just talk about things and then move on.  Teens need reminders of the committments that they have made to themselves.  I often tell groups, that I am presenting to, that most people believe that teens are selfish and really don’t need to spend anymore time thinking about themselves but I believe that they aren’t spending time thinking about what is important to them, looking towards their future and setting goals.  They can often get overly consumed in the here and now - who has or hasn’t called/texted, what others are saying/thinking about them and what music they need to download!  While these activities can all be entertaining they can also be distracting and leave them unfocussed on what matters.  Making a list and posting it on the fridge, by the door, over the bathroom mirror, in their room or on their cell phone can re-focus them.  It also means that you are aware of their dreams, goals and plans and will be able to help them along the way (if they let you!).

Keep reminding them that the list isn’t written in stone and that as life changes, so will they and so will their goals.

For more information about our tips, resources or books go to: http://www.whileyouwereaway.org

To submit a tip of your own, write to: [email protected]

Book Recommendation of The Week

The Fifth Rule - By Don Aker

Regardless of whether you are in a military family or not, your kids need to read books that they can connect to, books that give them insights into other teen thoughts, actions and feelings, and books that teach them about their limits.  This book is about Reef Kennedy - a former young offender.  When he returns back to the former city of where he committed his crimes, he is forced to think about the consequences of his actions, discover who he is, what he wants and how to move on with his own life after the death of the only man that ever gave him a chance.

Reef let his anger control his actions.  Several years ago he ended up throwing a stone off an overpass which ended up nearly killing Leeza.  It would be a great book to read to a class and then debate around whether or not we should send young offenders to jail or give them opportunities in their communities to change their lives.  There is also the relationship between Reef and Leeza which would be a good starting point for discussion too - what things can you truly forgive someone for and what do you think you couldn’t?  Leeza’s mother and Leeza’s relationship is also a discussion point as Leeza’s mother could be percieved as over-protective - when do parents need to give you more freedom and let you make your own mistakes and live your life?

This book makes teens think about how one decision, one thoughtless moment, one angry gesture can not only change your life but someone else’s forever.

For more information about our tips, resources or books go to: http://www.whileyouwereaway.org

To submit a tip of your own, write to: [email protected]

Book Recommendation - 101 Daily Challenges: A Road Map for Teens

Megan Recommends -

101 Daily Challenges: A Road Map For Teens

Okay, it is our new teen journal but I really believe in it so I feel comfortable blogging about it!  It is a journal with 101 challenges for teens to do and then write about their experiences.  The idea is to get tweens and teens focussed on what is important to them, take safe risks and learn about others and themselves, challenge themselves to do things to make themselves feel good about their accomplishments and perhaps even do the same for those around them.

Challenges include:

* Try a sport or activity you have never tried

* Decide on 5 things you would like to do before finishing high school

* Call a relative or friend you haven’t seen or connected with in a while

* Shop for an outfit with a $10 budget

* Donate blood

* Do something for someone else for free

For more information about our books, tips or resources, go to: http://www.whileyouwereaway.org

To submit your own book recommendation, write to: [email protected]

More Tips for Families with Teens - #158

15 Rules For Talking to Teens - Tip #158

Whether or not you are in the middle of a deployment, about to be posted, recently reunited or just living military life, these tips will help you to effectively communicate with teenagers.  I think that it is easy to blame teens and say that the communication problems are theirs but there are a lot of things you can do to improve the situation too.  Below are my 15 rules for talking with teens - remember that I said talking with not at!  :)

1)  Listen with your full attention

2)  Be aware of your body language and theirs

3) Don’t interrupt them when they are speaking

4)Focus on the problem, not the person

5) Avoid threatening or criticizing (it can be challenging, I know!)

6) Use humour when you can (remember if you don’t laugh, you could cry)

7) Be calm

8)Don’t talk too much

9)Accept your child’s feelings

10)                   Check that you have understood by asking them to re-state what you said

11)                     Stick to one topic/subject at a time

12)                   Give your opinion but remind them it is just one opinion

13)                   Allow your child to think about solutions before offering any of your own (as tempting as it is to give them an answer)

14)                   Give your child as many choices as possible

15)                   Don’t assume that you have been understood or that you understand what they are feeling

For more information about our tips, resources or books, go to: http://www.whileyouwereaway.org

To submit a tip of your own, write to: [email protected]

Book Recommendation of the Week for Teens

Megan’s Recommendation -

“Shattered” by Eric Walters

Fifteen year-old Ian needs 40 hours of community service if he wants to pass Grade 10 course.  He ends up in one of the most demanding volunteer placements available, serving food to homeless men at The Club - a soup kitchen on a tough side of town. Ian makes it clear that he’s only there for the hours. Mac, the tough, straight-talking guy who runs The Club, likes the teen with no empathy or understanding about life for the homeless.  For Ian who is from the suburbs and leads a life of priviledge, the grim realities, dangers, isolation and invisibility of life on the street opens his eyes in a dramatic way.
Ian is rescued from a violent mugging by Sarge, a former soldier, who is now living with other homeless men in a small camp of tents hidden away in the park.  He wonders how a man who is so clearly educated, self-disciplined and rational, could end up on the streets. Assigned by his Civics teacher to interview someone from the Armed Forces, Ian seeks out the former soldier and learns about his twenty-four year career in the military, and the many UN peacekeeping missions in which he participated. But, when Sarge mentions Rwanda and Ian admits to knowing nothing about this place, Sarge clams up, obviously distressed.
Ian learns about the 1994 Rwandan genocide and that people from other parts of the world have also been witness to atrocities, including his own housekeeper, who lives with the memories of Guatemala’s Disappeared.  His experiences, both at The Club and with Sarge, change the way Ian sees the world and himself. He finds himself going to the soup kitchen, long after his 40 hours are done, hooked on the need to help.  After a lot of soul searching, Ian decides to tackle Sarge about his drinking, and to do everything he can to aid the former soldier in facing his nightmares and finding the courage to live again. Shattered is an important story about two very difficult topics, homelessness and forgotten veterans.

Any book that gets teens to look beyond their immediate circle of friends and family and think about the sacrifices others make for us is a good thing!  You could challenge your group, school, class or resource centre to do a book club with this book and then come up with a plan of how they could volunteer some of their time to support your military community.  If you have a teen, read this book together and then challenge each other to both commit some time to helping others.

For more information about our blogs, books and resources please go to: http://www.whileyouwereaway.org

To submit a tip or book recommendation of your own, write to: [email protected]

More Tips for Military Families with Teens - #127

Conversation Cards - Tip #127

Conversation can be strained, difficult or seem impossible when you have a teenager.  Their description of a day or events can be a grunt or “fine” and you are more likely to win the lottery than get any further.  This doesn’t mean you should stop trying, ask more questions and continue to ask questions that require more than a one word answer (ex. “What did you do today?” not, “How was your day?”).  I may be delusional but I truly believe that they want us to keep asking because they aren’t sure of themselves or the answers and need our help -  we just have to work on asking the right questions.


** Print these out and work on asking your teen all of these questions throughout the month.

** Re-phrase them the way that would be most comfortable for you to ask them if you need to

** Ask questions even if you are frightened to hear the answer or worried they will get angry or annoyed

** Questions:

- What is the longest you have been without sleep?

- Who would you take on your dream vacation and where would you go?

- How did you meet one of your closest friends?

- What do you find hardest when _________ is away?

- What do you think my greatest strengths and weaknesses are?

- What do you think the best job in the world would be?  Why?

- What meal do you crave the most?

- What is your best childhood memory?

- What do you like about military life?  What do you dislike?

- What is the longest you have ever had to wait for somebody?

- What was the last compliment you got?

- How do you think you would do on ________(insert game show or reality show)?

- What do you want to accomplish this year?

- What are your 4 favourite songs at the moment?

- Do you think people’s personalities are born or made that way?

- What is the most embarassing thing that I have done?

- What do you think your worst habit is?  What do you think mine is?

** For more information go to: http://www.whileyouwereaway.org

** To submit questions of your own, write to: [email protected]

Megan Recommends - Afghan Dreams

Book Recommendation For Tweens and Teens -

Afghan Dreams By Tony O’Brien and Mike Sullivan

This book tells the story of young children in Afghanistan and their dreams for their country and themselves.  Each page has the story of a child or teen with their picture.  It has stunning photographs that capture the essence of the children that are telling their stories.   It teaches students about people their own age who are, in some ways, completely different from themselves and in other ways very similar.  Through the stories of children ages 8 to 18 we hear of their lives, hopes and dreams.

One extension activity that I have done is to have students take a picture of each other and have them write a paragraph about their lives, telling their story.  I asked them to write about one struggle, one trimuph and one hope for their future.  Then we created a cover using all of their photographs and made it into a book.  It was interesting to see them relate to one another through a shared experience or story.

It would be a great book for any library, resource centre, school or classroom.

For more information about our blog, resources or books go to: http://www.whileyouwereaway.org

To submit a tip, write to: [email protected]


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