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Storytelling for Teenagers

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We all grew up with stories.

For me, my favourites as a pre-teen was the Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis.

We’re all familiar with stories.

Most of us can recall the points of significance of a good story, as if there’s some special place in our memory banks reserved for a great storyline.

Those stories that resonate with us last us a life time.

Is it any wonder that stories are the most powerful when teaching principles, morals and life lessons.

Stories written, or visual through the medium of the big screen, bring us into the picture themselves.

We feel.

We empathise.

Our hearts race, or melt.

We tremble.

We laugh and cry.

A great story can move us in ways only the most brutal of lifes experiences can replicate.

Connecting with your teenage kids through stories

If you’re like most parents, you probably read stories to your kids before bedtime when they were infants.

Dr Suess’s Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham were Zac’s favourite.

Night after night he would hear the same story and night after night we shared time together, laughing at the silly narration and images.

Zacs laugh isn’t lumbering like mine. His is a little cheeky giggle that warms your heart.

So as he grew up, we missed those times when he would curl up next to us and beg us to read him a book.

His innocence was lost.

It happens to all little kids and before you know it, they become teenagers.

Zac is very much like me. He has an addictive personality and is a risk taker. So as a teenager that can open up a few doors that you don’t want them to go through.

Unfortunately Zac stepped through them, like I had in my day.

This brought us no end of stress and worry. Zac would go out and party, and party hard. There wasn’t much he wouldn’t do and for that reason he ended up in the emergency ward (more than once).

So as a parent, I did what I thought was best…

I started to have very long conversations with him and share stories from my teenage life.

Stories that had a point.

Stories that didn’t always end well.

Stories that had a moral – a truth that would only resonate if he could relate to them.

Those stories included subjects that are often uncomfortable to talk about with your teenage son. Actually they’re uncomfortable to discuss with others at any age.

They included; Porn, Drug Addiction, Violence, Prison, Suicide, Loss of Reputation… just to name a few.

Each story was taken from my own experiences growing up or from examples I gave from life experiences my friends went through.

Like the story of my best mate who hung himself in his garage when he was 13…

Or the story of a friend who became addicted to porn and can no longer have sex normally…

Or the story of my school mate who got addicted to heroin and committed armed robbery and went to prison.

Or the story of my LSD abuse and how it took me 4 years to get my mind straight – which cost me my friendships and more.

Yeah, those kinds of stories.

At the time, I was telling him those stories, hoping that something would resonate. Hoping he would listen and then change his behaviour to avoid disaster.

He had some close calls.

We had many nervous nights.

But there was one story that stuck…

The best kinds of stories

The stories I like best are the ones that change you. They change a habit or bring insight into a situation that you haven’t been able to resolve on your own. They make you more aware. They prevent you from a bad course of action.

At the height of his addiction, I told him the story of where I started using drugs. It began at the age of 13 when I was at my friends uncles. We got stoned.

It was my first time and like most kids, the first time is a laugh.

I skipped forward and spoke about how that became a habit. It became routine.

Most stoners can relate.

The high isn’t so high, but you’re now so used to that pattern of behaviour it’s hard to do something different.

Eventually, the dope runs dry. No matter how much you try to score there’s just nothing available.

The good news is your dealer also deals in other drugs.

Time to try something new I guess…

LSD, Mushrooms, Ecstasy, Speed, Cocaine… what would you like?

As I relayed the story to Zac I could see that this story was all too familiar.

He started like I did.

A puff on a joint. Some alcohol. Then like me, he chose dope as his vice. He preferred the feeling and the lack of hangover.

But those dry times changed everything.

Now what?

I sat with him that afternoon and we connected. He knew I had been where he was and I knew where he was heading.

I asked about his dealers house. What it was like. What were the people like in the dealers house when he went there.

Then I asked him to imagine himself at 7 or 8 years old… and imagine if I took him to that house full of strangers… sitting around in a drug filled house with drug addicts and dealers.

Could he imagine how scared he would have been?

And yet, here he is now, dropping in every week as if it were normal. As if it wasn’t a train wreck.

In that moment, he understood where he had gone. How the decisions he had made where he compromised himself had taken him one step further again and again into the sorry state of addiction and dependence that he was in at that moment.

The stories had started to sink in.

Over the course of a few years I had planted seed after seed of stories from my own life that I held as valuable lessons. I shared those stories with Zac.

They had a purpose for me. They gave me direction. Clarity of thought. Foresight into what would become if I went down certain paths.

Then, as if all at once, Zac changed course.

Overnight he decided enough was enough and that was it. He was done.

Why the change?

A few months later Zac revealed something that he never had before.

He said my stories held true.

As he was engaging in that life, he would see something that reminded him of our conversations.

He saw a friend overdose.

He saw friends losing their minds.

He saw the depravity and hopelessness.

He told us how he remembered all the talks we’d had and how he knew I was speaking the truth because he saw the very things I told him for himself.

The stories stuck. They resonated. They helped him make good decisions.

Have Courage

I’ve relayed this story, or some version of it to a few friends as it naturally came into conversation. Especially when friends were going through similar experiences.

How having the talk about Porn is important. Same goes for drugs and sex.

Yet some of my friends have flat out refused to have those conversations with their kids.

They don’t want to go there.

They’re too embarrassed to go there.

LISTEN TO ME FOR A MINUTE…

If you’re not willing to go there, someone else will.

Who would you rather your kids learn those lessons from? You, or a complete stranger?

YES they’re uncomfortable conversations.

YES they’re difficult.

YES THEY ARE DAMNED WORTH IT.

Have courage. If your teenage kids are doing ‘adult things’ then you can have an ‘adult conversation’ with them.

When Zac was 14, we had the most uncomfortable porn conversation you could ever imagine. It was so uncomfortable for him because his mum was in the room, discussing the porn we found on his computer.

Yes we went there.

If you need to, so should you.

Your stories matter.

Your stories will be how your kids take on board your attitudes, beliefs and values.

Tell your stories.