This week’s blog post is most likely to bring some deja vu to any dedicated readers of TeenLife. My name is Maddi and I work as an intern for TeenLife. This week I was asked by Ricky to find an old blog post that I connected to and repost it. After looking through many old posts more than once, I found one that was written pretty recently that really spoke to me. I have had my fair share of difficulties in life and have even participated in a support group provided by TeenLife since 2014. In this group I experienced, and continue to experience, true empathy. For the first time I was in a safe place that I felt comfortable talking about my troubles in. I had previously attempted to confide in my closest friends but found that to not be very helpful. Of course they had the best intentions and did their best to try and help me through my hard times, but there was no way they could have understood what I was going through. In this group I was in a place surrounded by people that weren’t trying to make me feel better by spouting the typical lines most people do. They understood what I was going through and empathized with me. I chose this blog post because most people choose to sympathize rather than empathize. My hope is by reading this you will realize how to be the type of person a friend can and will go to for help.
This post originally posted in May right before our Spring Fundraising Event.
Tomorrow is our Feed the Need Packing Party, and we are so excited to help more teenagers through the meals packed and funds raised through this fundraiser.
As we prepare for this fundraiser, I can’t help but think of the faces and stories of teenagers that I get to work with on a weekly basis. Their pain is real. Their success changes lives. Their questions are relevant. Their stories change my perspective.
You may be asking yourself, “How deep can you really go with teenagers when you only see them once a week for an hour? Do they actually share? What could they be dealing with that could rival adult problems?”
You would be shocked.
I can learn more about a teen in a one-hour Support Group meeting than many people can find out over months.
How is this possible?
Empathy makes all the difference in the world. In these Support Groups, we are not asking questions because we want to be nosy, tell them what they are doing wrong, or even fix their lives. We ask questions because we want to step into life with them, even when it’s hard and there is no easy fix in sight.
I absolutely love the Brené Brown video below. She expertly describes the difference between empathy and sympathy while revealing the power of showing true empathy in difficult circumstances.
When you watch the video, you can see that empathy is a powerful tool, especially when dealing with teenagers.
Just this year alone, I have had teenagers tell me about:
- Broken home lives where they are forced to choose who they want to live with.
- Families who encourage drug use while they are trying to stay clean.
- Fathers who bring their mistress into the home while mom tries to keep the family together.
- 30-hour work weeks to help the family pay medical bills.
- A fear of graduation because that is when they will be kicked out of their house.
- Extreme racism and name calling in a work environment.
Do I have the answers to these problems? Can I come up with magic words to make the hurt go away?
But I can listen. I can tell them that I am so sorry they are having to deal with such difficult life circumstances. I can sit in a chair beside them and step into their world for an hour a week. I can give them a safe, judgement-free zone to talk about their lives and problems.
I can empathize.
I encourage you to try some of the tactics mentioned in the video and to avoid phrases like “at least.” Step into a teenager’s shoes, crawl down into the pit with them, and show that someone cares and wants to listen.
In order for us to continue to provide these Support Groups and show empathy, we have our annual fundraiser. And so I also encourage you to get involved with our fundraiser! You can donate, pray, volunteer or simply share our fundraising page with friends to raise more awareness and help us reach our goal. It is not too late to make a difference in the lives of teenagers – join us!