Two Articles—One Connection

Last week, I read two online posts I hadn’t realized had a connection until a friend pointed it out. Here are the links to both:

http://writerunboxed.com/2017/06/19/heartened-by-wonder-woman-the-case-for-sincere-storytelling/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/what-ya-gets-wrong-about-teenagers-from-a-teen_us_594a8e4de4b062254f3a5a94

The first post included a quote by the director of Wonder WomanPatty Jenkins:

I’m tired of sincerity being something we have to be afraid of doing. It’s been like that for 20 years, that the entertainment and art world has shied from sincerity, real sincerity, because we feel like we have to wink at the audience because it’s what kids like.

Before I reveal the quote from the HuffPost article, let me ask you a question: What do you think a typical teen is like? Is she cool and confident—queen of her domain?

Or is she awkward, shy, hopeful?

That was a trick question. Is there really a “typical” teen—one that represents every teen on the planet? Nope. With that in mind, here’s the quote from the second post:

[N]ot all teens are adorable, wise-cracking, defiant, sarcastic little squirts. . . . Most of us teens are awkward and spend bus rides thinking up comebacks for arguments that we lost hours ago.

In other words, many real teens are not as cynical as those found in fiction books. Many are sincere—the connector to the Wonder Woman post.

Both posts fed something within me. I’ve seen Wonder Woman twice at the theater. The first post helped me realize what I especially love about the movie: the sincerity of the main character. Oh, she kicks butt with great skill. But (hee hee) she has a genuine interest in helping others.

The second post reminds me of teens I know. Sure, they sometimes grumble about what’s boring. (Read the post above, and you’ll see what this teen finds boring.) But they also talk about what they want to do to make a difference in the world. They have hope. This brings to mind something else the teen author of the above post said

I have something to say that may shock an inexperienced YA writer: I do not automatically and inexplicably hate any of my classmates. . . . In my school, most people like each other!

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” I hear you caution. “What about all those teens who bully other teens or shoot those who bullied them?”

Please note that the teen who wrote the above article mentioned her school, not all schools. I also was bullied as a teen back in the day when everybody had a stegosaurus for a pet. I also know teens today who have been bullied. But there are many, many teens who don’t bully others or shoot them.

Also, not every teen has the expectation that in order for a movie to succeed in entertaining him or her, the main character has to be cynical—always ready with an apt, sarcastic quip. They can appreciate sincerity. Men too, if you took note of the author of the first article.

Both posts remind me of what I love: writing about people who aren’t sure of themselves; who get scared or feel lonely and tongue-tied. And yes, some of these individuals are antagonists who harm others because of the pain they feel inside. But they aren’t the quipping sort. In their own way, they are sincere.

Please don’t get me wrong. I appreciate good sarcasm. I’m just not the kind of clever writer who can produce it with aplomb. I’m too earnest and awkward to be convincing.

So lately, I’ve been tempted to give up writing fiction, feeling pushed aside in a world craving something other than what I’ve been writing. But these posts give me hope. They remind me that maybe someone is looking for what I’m writing.

Patty Jenkins photo from slashfilms.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Macy Macaron (fourth photo) and Gemma Stone (third photo) are Shopkins Shoppie dolls by Moose Toys.

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Check This Out: Charlotte Cuts It Out

Yes, today is the day that I reveal the winners of The Lost Celt. (Click here, if you’re totally confused by that sentence.) But first, please help me greet the still fabulous Kelly Barson, who is back on the blog to talk about her latest contemporary young adult novel, Charlotte Cuts It Out. This book was published by Viking this past April. If you are a regular follower of this blog, you might remember Kelly from this interview a few years ago when her first novel debuted.

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Kelly is represented by Sara Crowe. Click here to read a synopsis of Charlotte Cuts It Out. We’ll wait till you return. You’re back? Just in time to hear some good news. One of you will win a copy of this book. Now, let’s talk to Kelly.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Kelly: 1. I’m a grandmother.
2. I—well, my family really—collect antique steam tractors.
3. I’m left-handed and can write in mirror image, like Leonardo Da Vinci.

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4. I’m an INFJ who married an ESTP six months and one day after our first date.

El Space: I don’t think I’ve seen a book recently where a teen pursues a vocation. Very refreshing! So, what inspired you to write Charlotte Cuts It Out? I couldn’t help thinking of someone I know who participated in the cosmetology program of her high school. She’s out of high school now and working at a salon in my area.
Kelly: My daughter was a high school cos student. She’s now working as a stylist. Out of my four kids, only one went to college. The other three work in the trades, and each of them got their training while still in high school. Trades are viable career options, and they’re often misrepresented, if presented at all.

cosmetologist-student

El Space: What were the challenges and joys of creating a character like Charlotte, who really seems to know her own mind?
Kelly: Charlotte was both fun and challenging to write. Her sass was fun to write, but the annoying parts of her often mirror my own nature, so that was weird/interesting. The hard part was allowing her to be herself while still trying to present her as somewhat likeable, so readers care. Was I successful? That depends on the reader, I guess. My critical thesis at VCFA was on unlikeable protagonists, but that didn’t make writing one any easier.

El Space: If Charlotte had to create a style palate for Michelle Obama, what would she do first and why?
Kelly: This is hard because Michelle Obama doesn’t really need style help. She is already fierce and awesome. Charlotte (and I) would love to see her hair in its natural curl. She typically has it straightened with a flat iron, and it always looks fabulous, but she could mix it up a bit by going natural now and then. As for colors, she looks amazing in bright jewel tones. She and Barack are a stunning couple who can light up a room. No need to hide that. Her makeup is usually understated and accentuates her beautiful features, which is perfect for her. Oh, man, I’m going to miss her in the White House!

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El Space: If you had a chance to name a nail polish color, what name would you choose?
Kelly: This is easy. I did this in Charlotte: Iridescent Iris!

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El Space: What’s the best writing tip you’ve heard recently?
Kelly: This tip is from the prolific Cori McCarthy (AKA Cori McAwesome): Plot, but then don’t be beholden to it. Cori plots out her books, but isn’t afraid to let the story evolve how it needs to and change the outline as needed. She is fearless.

El Space: What are you working on next?
Kelly: I have several works-in-progress. One is another YA project about a girl and her sister who live with their hoarding grandmother. Another is a dual-POV story that takes place in 1976 and explores affirmative action. I worked on this at VCFA with Rita [Williams-Garcia]. I’m also working on a MG Christmas story. Then there are the stories that are still marinating in my brain space.

Good to have you as my guest, Kelly!

You can find Kelly at her website, Twitter, and Facebook. Charlotte Cuts It Out can be found here:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound

Do you know someone who pursued a trade, rather than attending a liberal arts college? Comment below to be entered in a drawing to win a copy of Charlotte Cuts It Out. (Please comment, even if you don’t know someone.)

Now let’s get to the winners of The Lost Celt by A. E. Conran.

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Those winners are

Andy of City Jackdaw

and . . .

and . . .

and . . .

Penny of Life on the Cutoff!

Congrats to the winners. Please comment below to confirm. The winner of Charlotte Cuts It Out will be announced on June 13.

Author photo by Hal Folk. Book covers from Goodreads. Michelle Obama photo from africancelebs.com. Iris image from clisawrite.files.wordpress.com. Nail polish photo from Pinterest. Da Vinci mirror writing image from imgarcade.com. Cosmetology student photo from sites.google.com.

Roll Deep as You Whip and Nae Nae

On Christmas and New Year’s Day, my family played a game with some slang flashcards my sister-in-law was given for Christmas. Each card had a word or phrase the meaning of which we had to figure out. Like roll deep. What do you think it means? (See the end of the post for meaning.) We knew what it meant, since we used terms like this and others back in high school. But there were some we didn’t know.

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Knock Knock’s Slang Flashcards

I was interested in a discussion about slang because of my middle grade WIP. Slang, dances, celebrities, and technology unfortunately date a book. Case in point: have you used the term the bees’ knees lately? Played with a GameBoy Advance? The inclusion of these people and items is the tricky part of writing contemporary novels for kids and teens. Members of this audience mention celebrities and use slang and technology out the wazoo—an old slang term now in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. (See also out the yin-yang.)

Frequenters of the internet quickly pick up the lingo of the internet. Like the term ship. As in “I ship Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy.” If you’ve been on the internet for even a day, you’ll have seen that term. (Go here if the term still mystifies you.) Or mansplaining.

So, what do you do when you want to use slang, but don’t want your book to sound as archaic as using Windows 95 in 2016 and beyond?

One way to do this is to make up your own slang and use it in context often. James Dashner, the author of the Maze Runner series, made up his own slang. This article tells you about that. If you saw the show Firefly and the movie Serenity, you know that many terms were made up to reflect the culture. Go here to learn some of those terms. By making up your own slang, you need not worry about slang becoming outdated.

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Don’t feel up to creating your own slang? Then carefully choose slang terms that will stand the test of time. Like the word cool. Be selective about the mention of currently popular activities that have given birth to slang. Like dance crazes. You might think twice about having your teen characters whip or nae nae at a party if your book will debut years from now. Kids and teens keep current with dance crazes and will cry foul if you mention out-of-date steps. Even I cringe whenever I see anyone in a show or a movie doing the Running Man.

You might also avoid terms so oversaturated in pop culture that even you’ve begun to hate them. If a phrase has become so mainstream that aging celebrities and your great-grandparents are using it (and giggling as they do, because they’re now in touch with “the young folks”), chances are a teen may avoid it, thinking that adults have ruined it for them. So if you sprinkle it throughout your book, they might avoid it like the plague. You feel me, homey? (I know. My use of that statement makes you go, “Arrrgggghhh.” As Senator/Emperor Palpatine might say, “Good, good. I feel your anger.”)

Palpatine-image

As I considered adding slang, celebrities, and items like game systems and phones to my book, I decided to go the route of imagination and make up my own. Too many celebrities nowadays are fifteen-minute wonders (or, sadly, pass away). And technology changes very quickly. You have only to look at the phones Cher and her friends in the movie Clueless carried to see the difference.

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Cher and her oh-so-boss mobile phone

Another thing to consider in the use of slang is how to make a judicious use of it, rather than allowing only certain characters (i.e., ethnic characters) to use it. All cultures and subcultures have a slang of some kind. Geeks, jocks, adults, warriors—people from all walks of life use terms that are familiar to their specific group. Many people also adopt the slang of other groups or cultures too.

How do you use slang or other aspects of pop culture in your writing? Is staying current with slang or trends really necessary for you? Why or why not?

Want to whip or nae nae? Watch this video by Silentó.

Roll deep means hanging with a large group of friends who have your back. They’re your posse, your entourage.

Cher on a phone from metro.co.uk. Book cover from Goodreads. Firefly from tvposter.net. Slang flashcards image found at knockknockgoods.com. Palpatine from momybaby.net.

Thanks, Mom

Happy_Mothers_Day_wishes_greetings_wallpapers_celebration_love(www.picturespool.blogspot.com)_02Hope you had a lovely Mother’s Day. If you’re not from the U.S., here in the States we celebrated mothers everywhere on May 10. I don’t have children of my own. Can’t have any. Nieces, nephews, and other people’s kids have become mine over the years. So when someone tells me, “Happy Mother’s Day,” I say, “Thanks,” and keep on swimming.

I’m grateful that I have a wonderful mother, one who even goes the extra mile by reading my blog posts! I gave Mom a hard time growing up. She wanted the best for me. I didn’t always see it that way—like when she would tell me that the guy I dated was not right for me. Grrr. She was always right. Also, she never stopped pushing me to do my best. I called it nagging; she called it “helping me succeed.”

Apr May 2011 - seed bombs, connor wedding, blue wht wed, mothers 052

Mom has an uncanny sense of knowing when I’m doing something I shouldn’t be doing. Like in my freshman year of college when I took codeine pills for pain that unfortunately gave me insomnia for three days. Mom called me at 7:30 one morning to ask, “Okay, what did you take?” This is the same woman who once told me she had eyes at the back of her head. When I was a kid, I believed her. But that day, she told me she’d had a dream about me, which prompted her to call.

She has prayed for me every day of my life. Judging by some of the stupid situations that I survived (like running out into the street without looking and getting hit by a car), I needed the help. Remember Natalee Holloway? What a sad story. A friend and I faced a slightly similar situation during a vacation we took in Montego Bay, Jamaica, right after we graduated from college. (Natalee was a high school student who traveled to Aruba.) While at a party, we each met a guy and wound up separated from each other on different sides of the city. That’s a long story that I won’t fully tell here. (Sorry.) Obviously, this story ended differently than Natalee’s. When I heard what happened to Natalee back in 2005, I felt chilled to the bone, knowing that the same thing could have happened to me. (This is not a story any mom likes to hear.)

Mother’s Day reminds me to say thanks to all of the women who were surrogate moms to me—women who cared enough to reprimand me whenever I behaved in an idiotic fashion (which, growing up, happened a lot). In a day when some parents yell at you for reprimanding their kids—“Yeah, he broke that window. But you can’t tell my kid what to do”—I’m grateful that someone cared enough to tell me when I was wrong. Teachers, neighbors, acquaintances, strangers, advisors, and authors through their wonderful books—fabulous surrogates all. It really does take a village to raise a child.

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On Mother’s Day, after we ate a meal that my brother and his father-in-law helped prepare, two of my sisters-in-law, their mom, and I sat two teenage nieces down and asked them what they would do if they found themselves in difficult situations. For example, “If you’re at a party and your friend has been drinking and wants to drive, what will you do?” Perhaps our questions might have prompted some eye rolling (like I used to do when I was a teen and my mom, grandmother, and aunts talked to me about life). But maybe, just maybe, we might save them from a bad situation (like some of the ones I went through). That’s all a mom can hope to do.

Thanks, again, Mom. I’m grateful to God for you.

Mother’s Day image from fun-gall.blogspot.com. Flowers from sprout-flowers.com. Village sign from jeannie-ology.com.

Why Do What You Do?

Today is the day that I announce the winner of Not Without My Father, a memoir by the awesome Andra Watkins. As usual, I’m going to make you wait for that announcement until the end, unless you prefer to be devious and skip ahead.

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Jordie’s personal plea. But he has to work here, so please use your own judgment.

Last week, I watched the 3D animated movie, Rise of the Guardians (DreamWorks 2012). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen that movie. Maybe close to nine or ten times. As usual, I was touched by the mission of each Guardian (Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, and Guardian-in-training Jack Frost): to guard the children of the world, and especially guard precious aspects of childhood like wonder and fun.

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I’ve written other posts about this movie, so I won’t go into the plot. You can look here for that. Suffice it to say that the movie caused me to think about my audience and why I write. The intended audience of my current project—teens—is a lot older than the audience for this movie. Still I have to ask myself: Am I a Guardian? If so, what, if anything, do I guard? Why is that important?

To answer that, I thought back over the recent encounters I’ve had with teens, many of which have been of the chauffeuring variety.

Teen: Going to game night? Can I catch a ride with you?
Me: Sure.
Friend: Can you pick up Caitlyn from school? She’s sick and needs to leave early. I can’t leave the office.
Me: Sure.

These car trips with teens have fostered long discussions of videogames or the kinds of videogames I would write if I had the opportunity to do so. (RPGs, by the way.) We’ve also talked about movies and books we’ve liked or disliked. Yet even the most innocuous conversation with a teen can sometimes lead to revelations of heartfelt needs as trust is earned. So these experiences reminded me that I’m a Guardian of their trust and the need for authenticity. This includes being open and real (in appropriate, parent-approved ways of course). And of course trust and authenticity need to spill over into what I write. I will quickly lose their trust if I’m a big, fat fake writing stories I don’t believe in, starring characters with the emotional depth of a raisin.

I also thought about my reason for reading, which dovetails with my reason for writing. I can tell you that in three words: I enjoy it. I like to be taken to different worlds to meet people I will grow to care about deeply. An author who thoroughly entertains me is deeply treasured.

Fantasy Journey

Who wouldn’t want the I-treasure-you response from a reader? But my reason for writing is more than just a desire to entertain someone, although I like doing that. No, I write because of the joy of creating something. If a reader enjoys the journey of one of my stories, it’s because I first enjoyed taking it. So, that makes me a Guardian of my own need to create.

I’ve mentioned many times that I usually watch the behind-the-scenes documentaries of shows or movies. I love hearing about the process of creating these works. The excitement of those involved is very infectious. Each time I see their enthusiasm and love for the material, I can’t wait to return to my own created world. This makes me conscious of the fact that I may someday inspire someone through my creations. (One can only hope.)

Why do you do what you do? Do you consider yourself a Guardian? If so, of what? While you give that some thought, let’s get to the winner of Not Without My Father by Andra Watkins—an author you can trust. But I don’t have to tell you that. 🙂

Not Without My Father: One Woman's 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez alw-headshot-blog

That winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Naomi of Bmore Energy!

Congrats, Naomi! Please comment below to confirm!

Rise of the Guardians poster from teaser-trailer.com. Andra Watkins author photo from her website. Fantasy journey image from ipadwallsdepot.com.

They’re Back

There I was, driving down the street next to my apartment building when I saw them, huddled at the curb, as if daring me to draw nearer. In fact, they chose that moment to saunter into the street. My heart sank and I slammed on the brakes. As they crossed to the next curb, each turned and gave me a look as if to say, “Yeah. We made you stop. We can make you do whatever we like. And there’s nothin’ you can about it, ’cause we own this street. Mwahahahaha!!!!!”

Who are they? Canadian geese. They’d been away much of the summer. Now that the weather cooled down, they were back. Since I was driving, I couldn’t grab my phone to snap a photo of my own. I had to find one on the Internet.

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Look at ’em. They’re plotting to walk in front of my car.

I don’t know why they usually feel the need to saunter into the street the moment they see my car. But whenever I see them, my attitude instantly shifts toward the negative. And they don’t have to do anything to merit my negativity. All they have to do is show up.

Ever feel that way? Not just about geese but about a person or a group? What about teens? I ask about them specifically, because sometimes, when I see a few geese sauntering down the street, I think of teens. This doesn’t mean that I have the same negative attitude toward teens as I’ve expressed about geese. But teens in my neighborhood, like geese, gather in groups in parks and on street corners. Many have an “I dare you to stop me” manner, as if they expect anyone they encounter, particularly an adult, to thwart them in some way. (Not all behave that way of course.)

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Look at ’em. Waiting for the rest of the gaggle.

When I was a teen, I usually knew when adults had a negative attitude toward me, especially those I saw each day on the bus on my way to school or at the mall. Perhaps they had an expectation that my friends and I would be too loud or too impetuous or too _______ (fill in the blank). That attitude was usually expessed with a look that told me, Oh no. Teens. Why do they have to be here? As if they wished us 50 miles away.

Perhaps their attitude sprang from a bad experience with a teen or from a lack of understanding of teens, though they were teens themselves once. Perhaps suspicion has created a gap neither side has bridged.

You know, suddenly I’m reminded of my attitude toward the geese. My jaded attitude comes from dodging geese in the road or dodging their poop in parks. But my attitude says more about me than about the geese, doesn’t it? Even if I think I’m justified, am I really?

The day I saw the geese, I was impatient to get to my destination. The geese happened to get in my way. I felt that my desire to get where I was going was more important than their desire to cross the street. When their rights coincided with mine, intolerance was the result.

So, I know what I need to do. I need to deal with my own issue, instead of blaming the geese. Yes, they’re back as they usually are at this time of year—just in time to remind me that patience and tolerance are virtues I can cultivate.

Canada_goose

Are you lookin’ at me? Honk if you are.

Canadian geese from Wikipedia and elsewhere on the Internet. Sims FreePlay teens from blog.mezzacorona.it.

Less Talk, More Love

When I was a teen, I could easily spot the adults who were uncomfortable with teens. They were the ones quickest to provide their opinions, especially if they felt my skirt was too short, my music too loud, or my opinions too vocal. I needed to be put in my place, in their opinion. So I heard statements like, “In my day, we didn’t have all the luxuries you kids have.” Or, “That’s what’s wrong with kids today.” What I thought didn’t matter. What mattered was my being told what they thought.

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My reaction was usually something along the lines of, “In your day, the Mayflower was still floating toward America, you old geezer. You don’t know anything about my day!” I quickly tuned them out, unwilling to listen to their criticism. I didn’t care what they thought. What mattered was their learning of my contempt.

See the disconnect? We call this the communication gap. Neither side was willing to listen to the other.

I couldn’t help thinking about this when I went to the Monologue Show at my nephew’s high school. I went ready to listen. This show is an annual tradition. Students who participate have to audition and provide their own material. My nephew’s monologue, which involved other students in skits, was hilarious and drew some of the night’s biggest laughs. Go ahead and say I’m biased, but had you been there, you would have noticed.

Other students’ monologues also were humorous, but several were heartbreaking. I was struck by a theme of perfectionism in the evening—students speaking about the notion of having to be perfect: perfect body, hair, and grades. This high school is one of the top high schools in the state, so perfectionism is a hot-button issue around the school. Many of the students despaired of ever measuring up to the standard of perfection set before them.

After hearing these sentiments, I thought, What have we [adults] done to these kids? Have some of our critical comments led to this?

Oh, I know you’re thinking, Whoa, L. Marie. That’s not my fault. I don’t know those teens. Easy, there! I’m talking about adults in general, rather than you specifically. And I get it. Some of the pressure teens face is due to the system. Scholarships are hard to come by. So great scores on standardized tests like ACT and SAT gain one admission into top schools and rake in scholarships. I understand the need to make good grades. I was a high school student at one point. (Um, well after the Mayflower landed.)

But today’s students also are expected to excel in so many other areas as well: athletics; community involvement; the arts—the list goes on.

Speaking of the arts, you have only to look at reality shows like Bring It! (Lifetime Channel) and others where well-meaning parents push their kids to be the best dancers, singers, whatever. I’m not knocking helping a child to excel at an activity where he or she shows talent and a desire to excel. But living vicariously through a child is where life gets a bit dicey and the pressure starts to mount. And in a world where talent is weighed and measured and bought and sold, well, teens are expected to bring it, even if they don’t want to.

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Let’s move on to the notion of looking perfect—an aspect of several of the evening’s monologues. We live in a culture saturated by visuals: billboards, commercials, magazines, ads popping up on our computer screens, smartphones gaining one instant access to the Internet. And let’s not forget the sites where you can upload images—Snapchat, Instagram, and others; places where thigh gap is measured and beauty displayed and dissected.

Teens live so much of their lives through social media. This prompted my next horrified observation as I listened to some of the monologues: What have they [teens] done to themselves?

We all know the horrors of peer pressure and the desperate desire to measure up. You can only push someone so far before that person reacts. Some snap under the pressure. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve also been there.

So now my question is, what will we adults do? Okay, I get that maybe you don’t desire this responsibility. Maybe there are no teens in your life. But those of us with teens in our lives or who write for teens have an opportunity to help make a difference.

We don’t have to be those adults who talk at teens by telling them how much they’re failing us and society or demanding that they exceed unrealistic expectations. Don’t get me wrong. This is not a suggestion to hold back on discipline or to stop prodding a kid who wants to slack off and play videogames all day. This means knowing a teen’s potential and helping him or her to achieve it, without having a hidden agenda (like forcing a child to live out your dream).

Also, we can be honest with them about our own struggles, instead of pretending we have it all together and they’d better get with the program, especially if we don’t hold ourselves to this standard. We can write about their struggles without moralizing them. Above all, we can listen to and love them. The world can be a cold place for those struggling to find their way. We can provide a warm place, even if just for a little while, and invite them to come in out of the cold.

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Teens photo from lakesideconnect.com. Bring It! photo from rollingout.com. Heart from healthticket.blogspot.com.