A Few Words For Helpers

A Few Words For Helpers

I had an encounter with a situation recently that got me thinking about how we as adults can best help teenagers. A little context:

Upon arriving at my office, I had a friend of our organization waiting on me with a teenager sitting next to them. It was obvious there was something going on, so I sat down with them to talk through the issue.

It turns out the teenager wasn’t related to the adult, but the adult had a mentoring relationship with this teenager and knew their mom. In recent weeks the family situation had disintegrated and essentially this teenager was dumped on our friend and threats were made that the teenager was going to be kicked out of the house. So sitting in front of me was a well meaning adult, and an unrelated teenager who had nowhere else to go.

Tough doesn’t even start to describe this situation.

In fact I would argue these kinds of situations are the reason many adults don’t want to work with teenagers much outside of their own family situation.

It’s messy.

But the truth is, we need more. Teen Life has opportunities daily to interact with teenagers from all walks of life, cultural and religious background, and social status. Some have incredible families and support structures, while others have literally nothing. Some have advantage while others seem to have the world actively battling against them.

But the one thing they all have in common is this – they need support and presence from adults. No matter how well off they might seem, someone has to be there for them who have lived longer and has more life experience. This cannot be replaced.

Thinking back on our friend who came into our office, I think about how much they were trying to be supportive and available to a teenager who was losing everything. But, she was there. She showed up. What we talked about that morning would seem to help others as they help teenagers, so here it goes:

  1. Know your boundaries

Our friend was well meaning, but needed some help (and permission) to set boundaries not only with the teenager, but with their parents. Both were misbehaving badly and wanted someone to be a part of it. In the counseling world it is called “triangulation”. Simply, when people are in pain or at a loss they find someone else to project the stress they are feeling onto so it won’t hurt so bad or they won’t have to deal with the problem.

Boundaries are crucial when working with anyone, especially teenagers. They teach and protect. Knowing what you are wiling to do and where you need to stop can allow for a clear path through a difficult situation.

  1. De-escalate the situation

When you come upon a situation where there is stress, do everything you can to calm the stress. Find a way to create space for everyone to cool off. Go on a walk. Play with playdoh. Build something with legos. Write or draw. Listen to some music. As a helper, find a way to create safe space for clear thought. When teens and families are in a state of stress, clear communication and resolution is relatively impossible. Find a way to de-escalate and reduce the stress.

  1. Know your resources. 

Most communities have some support system in place with professionals and lay people equipped to serve vulnerable populations. Whether it be a local non-profit, faith community, or school, there is help to be found. Often for the helper of teenagers, their issues and demands can be daunting. But if you know there is help available, it helps you to stick around.

Typically these resources can be found either via web, call in services (like the National Suicide Prevention Hotline or 211), or by making a few phone calls to community leaders. Our experience has told us we are only a few phone calls from getting the resource we need. Don’t be afraid to make a few calls.

  1. Refer, refer, refer. 

I’m sure you are a smart person if you are willing to help a teenager but, you don’t know it all. Don’t be afraid, especially after having a working knowledge of the resources in your community, to refer to trusted sources. Bring the community in to help. Let them shoulder some of this load.

So in summary –

Know your boundaries,

De-escalate the situation,

Know your resources,

Refer, refer, refer.

What do you think about this? How have these ideas helped you in the past?

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s Program Director, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
My Post That Made Everyone Mad

My Post That Made Everyone Mad

Recently I posted something online that had a little bit of “edge” to it (in reality, I was just frustrated about something and was venting), and someone close to me sent me a message about how it hurt their feelings. I remember feeling strange about the whole interaction to be honest. We cleared things up, but it made me think about how we interact, and what is considered normal these days. 

There has been a lot written about the potential effects of social media consumption, how it impacts our thinking and interactions, as well as what could be coming as a result of our conduct. Some say it doesn’t really matter, while others are waving red flags.

The truth is, we don’t really know a lot yet. Social media has only been a real player for the last 15 years or so. We can’t predict a lot of what will come of this age of social media connection, but we can make some observations based upon our experiences.

The aforementioned interaction left me wondering how we are supposed to interact, because what happened didn’t feel natural or right. First of all, I chose to vent a frustration on a digital platform to my followers (which aren’t many). Why did I do this? What was I hoping to accomplish with something like that? Upon examination, it was a cathartic exercise that didn’t really accomplish anything positive. I had some people who supported it, some people who disagreed, and then had people who didn’t know each other arguing about something I said.

Read that again: I had people who didn’t know each other arguing about something I said.

Isn’t that a strange outcome?

All of this happened without seeing, hearing, or being in the presence of the people who agreed, disagreed, or were hurt by what I said. Something that substituted for human interaction (social media) became the vehicle for picking up and dropping off feelings and thoughts, totally out of context and without a clear direction.

I haven’t posted anything since on social media. While my interactions weren’t particularly hostile, they gave me cause to think about how I want to relate to the people in my life. While I’m not against social media, I AM for being honest about our experiences.

My experience tells me:

  • People tend to think the worst of each other when they disagree on social media
  • Tone and context are completely lost on posts 
  • We post our frustrations to get a response (which is what I did)
  • We post our good stuff to curate a positive image about our lives
  • Because we read about what is going on with other people, we often do not pursue face-to-face interactions
  • Do you disagree with this? Or, does this resonate with you on some level?

 

To be sure, ask yourself these questions next time you are on social media for any period of time: 

  • What do I feel about the people I just interacted with online?
  • Do I feel any closer with these people?
  • How do I feel about myself?
  • How would this be different if I saw them face-to-face? 

As adults, we need to be thinking about these things. Teenagers are neck deep in this world and many we talk to are looking for something more real, authentic. We have the chance to use social media for the things that are useful, but leave the relationship stuff up to real and personal conversations. 

What are your thoughts on this? Has your experience been any different?

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s Program Director, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
We Don’t Give Up

We Don’t Give Up

Recently I concluded a guys only Support Group at a local high school which, at the time, I thought was pretty successful. I had built some strong relationships with those young men, found common ground, and seemed to gain their trust. A measure of success for me with teenagers is their willingness to talk about the real stuff – and these guys had no problem telling the truth, even to the point of being uncomfortable. 

Fast forward a few weeks. I walked into another group which is at a local drug rehab for adolescent boys. One of the guys from my previous group was there. He had broken his probation for drug use and was mandated a treatment program. I had also found out two other boys from my previous group got caught up in some heavy drugs and kicked off their school campus. So, what I thought was a successful guys group turned out, at least on its surface, to be a bust. 

If you work with teenagers very long, you will face some disappointment. Really, it’s part of signing up. But, it isn’t why we get into it. 

I got into working with teenagers because I felt like they were a lot of fun to hang out with, I could relate, and maybe I could contribute to their growth in some way. That’s why most people get into a helping profession involving kids. We just love being around them. 

But we aren’t always motivated by what it really takes to be successful with teenagers – the long haul. This is especially true in cases involving teenagers in crisis, that is, students who have significant risk factors at play in their family and development. 

Part of leading a group with those guys helped me understand more about their background. They all had at least one parent who had either rejected them or was no longer in the picture because of prison or by choice. Their systems failed. People failed. Bad choices were made. Labels were applied. They were now “bad kids”. 

Then, one by one, the adults surrounding these guys gave up on them. These boys in return gave up on the adults around them. Everyone just gave up. 

And, after working with these guys for a long time and watching them just fall back into drugs and bad choices, made it tempting for me to give up on them too. They knew what I hoped for them. They remember our conversations. It was really discouraging to see their choices and what path they traveled. 

But here is the thing. At the drug rehab, my young friend lit up when he saw me. I was a familiar face in a difficult situation. We got to talk, and he expressed to me his desire to get things together. My other two friends connected with me as well, and we were able to process the consequences they were about to endure and what they could do differently in the future. 

I chose not to give up on them. And, that is a choice I will likely have to make a few more times before the story is complete. 

Why am I writing this? Don’t give up. That’s what I’m saying. For those of us who work with teenagers – we don’t give up. It isn’t an option. So many others will give up. You don’t have to. 

If you are an adult in a relationship with a teenager who is disappointing you – don’t give up. 

Keep the relationship first. 

Set realistic expectations. 

Keep your eyes on the future. 

Process mistakes and set different goals. 

Don’t give up. 

We don’t give up. 

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s Program Director, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
The Things We Want

The Things We Want

Each year, the staff here at Teen Life go on a short planning retreat to take stock of the previous school year and make plans for the next. Our fearless leader, Ricky Lewis, always sets up a framework for the staff to work through that not only helps us look back, but also helps us to look to the future and dream a little. I always look forward to these retreats as an opportunity to sort out what we want as an organization, to take a breath, and center ourselves on our work.

This year, Ricky threw us a little curveball and asked us to take a few minutes to write down some of our big picture dreams for what we want to be doing, not only in our work lives, but in our personal lives as well. Taking the time to work through some of my true desires for work and home reminded me of another really helpful exercise I will sometimes use with the teenagers we serve in Support Groups.

As a part of our groups, I will have the students imagine what it would be like if their life story was written as a movie or tv show. In other words, if we were to watch them as a character in their own story, how much would we be interested? Would we stay to watch it until the end, or would we give up on their character?

Donald Miller has done a lot of work in the area of story and helping people understand the different narratives that can be at play as we make decisions. Part of his writing looks at characters and how they are defined. According to Miller, a good character can be described this way:

“A good character wants something and is willing to go through conflict to get it.” 

So if you can think of any good character, we can identify clearly what they want and the sacrifices and struggles they go through in order to attain what they covet.

As we worked through our dream list, I found it helpful to remember what I truly desire out of this life. As one who loves and cares for teenagers, I feel compelled to do the same with them.

Too often, adults have dreams for the students they help but often do not know what they really want. If you don’t believe me, you should see the blank stares I get from teenagers when I ask them what they really want out of life. It’s not that they haven’t thought about it, but more that the adults in their lives have never asked them – or at the very least helped them think through what they want.

It is a powerful exercise to write down the things you want, even if it seems a little crazy (trust me, my list seems a little crazy). But when you write it out, you are forced to consider what needs to happen to accomplish those goals. What if we found creative, yet practical ways to help the teenagers around us to identify what they really want?

Here are some questions to ask:

– What do you want to be happening in your life around the age of 20? 30?

– If you woke up tomorrow and felt like you accomplished something significant, what would you want it to be?

– What is something you want to be different in five years?

– What is one job you would not consider to be work?

– What kind of people would be in your life if everything was good?

I’ve had some of my best conversations with teenagers talking about what they really want. It’s all really just in how you ask the questions. I know how great it feels to think a little about what I want. You get the chance to do the same. Give it a try!

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s Program Director, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
A Few Words on Courage

A Few Words on Courage

The older I get, the more I think it’s all about courage. When we find new and creative ways to instill courage into the lives of our kids – they win.

And, I’m not really talking about “getting ahead”. I’m talking about the small things of life.

Tests.

Telling the truth.

Looking out for the little guy.

Trying something new.

Saying you are sorry.

And, meaning it.

Putting the work in.

Taking responsibility.

Showing up.

Leaving.

Failing.

Getting back up.

Trying again.

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Teenagers, of all the people in this world, are positioned well to live with courage. For the most part, people don’t depend on them for their livelihood, so they can explore, make mistakes, and pivot when necessary. Within the bounds of the law, the consequences for failing tend to be less than adults who have families and careers. Teenagers tend to see the world with more naive and hopeful eyes – issues that can be solved or addressed with just one good idea. While those who are older roll their eyes and pat on the head – teenagers seem to expect their actions to actually make a difference and change environments.

The adolescent years are the perfect space to live courageously and with meaning. Those who do gain experiences and tools to do so as adults with families and careers. They know what it means to try and fail, doing so with the protection and support of the loving adults in their lives.

That’s where you come in. When the teenager you love comes to you with a wild and crazy idea – help them figure it out. Support them. Ask good questions. Help them take it a step further.

What would things look like if we lived with a little more courage? What would it look like for the teenagers in your life to be more courageous?

I think we can all agree on that answer.

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s Program Director, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.