A poem on the importance of allowing our young people to feel competent. If we rob our young people of this, we set them up to doubt themselves, to question their ability to learn new things and to doubt whether they have any value. Competency is a cornerstone of good self-esteem and good mental health. Read this and learn how to give the gift of competency!
I have no concept of home. Home is a place where you go to rest, to relax, where you can just ‘be’, restock, restore, ready to face the next task or the next day. I have no such place. So how do you fix this for me?
What takes someone to the place where they will self harm? Find out what's going on and how to help.
A poem on why teens don't listen to us, often because we are not listening to them, and how we can do better! "...I get shut down, Before I’m even open, You’re not listening to me, My words might as well be unspoken."
They're my friends. They're my friends 'cos they get me. And yet you think I shouldn't hang around with them. They're a bad influence. But you will never get me to stop being their friends until you understand why they are my friends in the first place and I understand this too. We need to work this out together before anything else. The role of familiarity magnetism, of low self-esteem, of a need for high emotional volume. You need to get this, before anything else.
What happens when we stop thinking we are an expert when we meet with our teens? What happens when we stop thinking we know it all? What happens when we open our hearts, minds and start really listening?
If you want to get through to your teens on the dangers of online grooming (who doesn't) then you must get them to watch the film below. This short film presents the true story of Kayleigh Haywood, a British schoolgirl who was the victim of online grooming, rape and murder. No words could better convey to our young people the dangers of online grooming than this film does.
On why it's not enough to focus on the 'don't's and why we need to focus on the 'instead's and the 'do's.
So this is a confession about my very real struggle to not cry at any Christmas event with children performing or singing. It's ridiculous. It's about understanding my behaviour and realising it's all about children's potential and how we need to still see it in our troubled teens.
On why traumatised kids can be primed for drama or high octane thrills and just can't cope with calm and how you can help them rediscover calm as a place of restoration rather than a place of fear.
Hey, it’s me again, back talking about my ability to blow-up at the slightest little thing and why that may be the case- that maybe due to some trauma or event in my life I may constantly be on high alert, primed for danger and threat which causes me to over-react to situations that in reality are non-threatening. I’m hyperaroused basically, with my baseline danger setting set way too high. We looked at what you can do to help bring me back from one of these blowouts, but now I want to help you understand how you can lower my baseline arousal level so that these blowouts become less frequent, and hopefully disappear altogether. The best approach will always depend on the extent of my hyperarousal. If I have been severely traumatised by an event and my behaviour is extremely erratic, I will need to receive some formal therapy from a specialist. Problem is that this therapy is dependent on me being willing to face the trauma head-on and agreeing to go. So what can you do to help me lower my baseline stress levels without me going for therapy? Well here goes... …
I’m buzzin’, I’m buzzin’. Looking from left to right, right to left, over my shoulder, off in the distance, at the person next to me, the person over there, the girl on her phone, that lady on the till, that guy holding the door. The looks on their faces, the way they move their hands, even the way they blow their noses. You see, I’m on high alert, yes, high alert, ready for anything, just anything. I’m in school, the noise, the humdrum, the pushing the jostling- woah! What the hell look are you giving me? You bump into me and give me that look… I’m gone. I can’t do this piggin’ English. I can’t do it, I can’t do it. Oh f***, oh hell. Pencil tapping, pencil tapping, kick the table leg, kick the table leg. “Be quiet Dwayne”. Be quiet Dwayne. What the f***. What the f***… I’m gone. Back home to foster carers. Slam the door. “How was school?” How was school? That tower of crap. Oh such a crappy place, a crappy day. Footsteps. “Did you hear me? How was school? ” Wall found, fist gone through…. I’m gone. Where have I gone? Gone to a place where body rules mind. Where amygdala eats frontal lobe. Where instinct eats reason. Where physicality beats mind. You can try and talk to me, but there is no listening. You are wasting your time. My ability to process verbal language, apply logic, analysis, to think of another’s perspective, to empathise, to think of where this behaviour might land me is nil, nada, nothing. I am busy surviving, consumed with this task to the exclusion of all else. …
I lay down and wept I shuddered to my very soul… For the thorns and the barbs The words and the deeds That led to those awful nights When all you did was bleed Your blood was not red Although it flowed free It did not require an ambulance Although you were on your knees Instead of the passive victim Lying broken down and crushed You rose like an angry pitbull All you wanted, to lay all to mush But the blood flowed free The wound was raw As you rent all asunder Made a symmetry metaphor They didn’t deserve it Neither did you People born innocent Turning all blue Both victims of a world That refuses to acknowledge The brokenness that resides In the foul and obnoxious But I see the trauma I see the reasons why You lash out, cause injury And that is why I cry For the world doesn’t see this It closes the door It labels you a toerag A waster, a shit, no more It’s why I pick myself up And put my hand out To offer coagulants and bandages No shadow of a doubt Of the fact you are worth it Of the…
If there’s one thing that troubled teens do well, it is going AWOL- disappearing without trace, no note, no message, no nothing. They fall off the radar for a while, but usually they pop up again, maybe a day, a week or even later, often by being found by the police, turning up at a relative’s or returning of their own volition. So what’s up with this? Why do they do this? Is there anything we can do to stop them doing this in the first place, or to get them to return sooner?
An important aspect of belief in oneself and one’s abilities to succeed in life, is the external affirmation of worth from family, friends, a higher power or other significant people in our lives. Unfortunately for some of our most troubled teens, their lives and the people in them do not provide them with this affirmation. Consequently their thinking about themselves is devoid of a sense of worth, of value, of self-belief. Instead of fostering positivity, family members whether present or not, can instill a sense of unworthiness, of uselessness, of being unwanted. ‘Friends’ can cause confusion about self-worth by causing them to link worthiness with a ‘what I can do for them’ user mentality, where it’s about peer pressure for personal ends and not for mutual benefits. When the chips are down, nobody’s got their back and deep down they know it.
In the previous post, we explored why some teens struggle with low self-esteem due to a lack of positive affirmation from others. One of our roles is to keep on building them up, and helping them to begin to believe in themselves. It is only once they begin to do this that they can begin to make changes in their lives where necessary and can begin to feel that they have the capability to mould their futures, rather than life just being ‘done’ to them. But how do we show them this? Sounds great in theory but what does it look like in practice? It’s finding the positives in their lives and in their characters and making a point of emphasising them whenever possible (but in a lighthearted off the cuff kind of way so that nobody has to reach for the bucket). Slowly drip-feed them. Young people who have little sense of self-worth often don’t know what to do with positive attention, it is so alien to them. So just like you can kill a starving child by making them eat too much to begin with, start slowly but surely so that they can gradually get used to their…
When you are working with a significantly overweight or obese teen, what do you see? A fat disgusting person with no-self control or someone struggling? Do you ask yourself the questions: What is really going on? Why are they over-eating? How much is physical, how much emotional? Is anyone to blame? What role has the child and their parents or carers played? These are some of the questions that my guest blogger, Pat Antos, seeks to address in this post, writing as his teenage self. Having himself been an overweight teen and a morbidly obese adult, he knows firsthand the issues that some of our teens are struggling with.
How do we keep ourselves motivated when we don't seem to be getting anywhere? When behaviour and attitudes aren't changing? How do we stop ourselves from not really trying anymore, giving up, declaring defeat in our minds and just going through the motions of an intervention? Why should we keep on trying, is there any point? Are there just some who will always be beyond our reach?
How to create memorable endings with your teens that increase their chances of future success.
So I was awarded the Liebster Award last week, woohoo! This is an award given by a fellow blogger that basically says, you’re valued, which is nice. But the award is far more interesting than just being given a little badge to put on your site. It’s all about spreading the word about other blogs out there that are of great value. So in accepting the award I have the responsibility to share with you some of my favourite regular read blogs. And I know I’m always interested to know what some of my favourite bloggers are reading, so hopefully you will find this interesting too.
As part of the process of accepting the Liebster award I have been invited to answer the questions set by Dorlee M, the blogger who selected me for the award. (To see who I have bestowed the award on in turn and the first part of this post,
Being able to relate to the teens that we work with has to be at the core of what we do. If we can’t relate, we can’t really communicate, we can’t understand, we can’t empathise, we can’t connect, we can’t build a relationship that has the potential to transform. We become therapeutic statues and our hearts become like stone. We are untouched, unchanged. They are untouched and unchanged. There is no life in the relationship. The question is, how can we relate to teenagers whose life experiences are often so radically different from our own?
Whoever said a change is as good as a holiday is a prat. Well maybe not a prat, but someone who lives a totally different life than me. Maybe if your life is steady, your routines are predictable, and the unexpected is completely unexpected, then change is good. But change is all too familiar to me. It’s the bully that lurks in the bushes and jumps me, anytime, anywhere. And so I constantly live in fear. In fear of a new foster carer, a new group home, a new school or being banged up. In fear of a change of circumstance or mood that ends in black eyes and broken hearts. In fear of a new power structure on the estate where I don’t know where I fit and getting it wrong could end up with me paying the ultimate price. If I have learned one thing it is this- change hurts. It unsettles me to my core and it can be dangerous.
You want our lives to run like clockwork. A tight schedule dictated by funding, limits of patience, supply and demand imbalances. The timing cogs appear as a specified number of sessions or as deadlines. The ‘we’ll be working together for the next ten weeks’ and the ‘you have to sort yourself out by the end of the month or we’ll have to look at moving you on’. New school, new foster care placement, new treatment, basically moved on to somewhere new or back to somewhere old or dumped nowhere if we don’t have a new attitude, a new behaviour. We have to be fixed or at least less broken by the time the clock strikes midnight.
“Woah, look at the gut on her!” “He’s a total dick.” “What’s his game?” “Nothing ever goes right for me.” “Everyone’s on my case, I wish they’d leave me alone.” Judgement, cynicism, black-cloud-over-the-headism. All features of a negative mindset, all so easy to succumb to. It might start out as a comment or a thought here or there, but over time it can grow into a whole way of being, a whole way of thinking, of viewing the world. Where all that can be seen is the bad, where cynicism dulls our sight, our emotions and robs us of our ability to see the good, the hopeful, the potential. And as negativity makes itself at home, real happiness slips out the back door.
Their behaviour is far from perfect. In fact it is often the polar opposite. They don’t engage in anything productive and will often embrace anything that’s destructive. They have such low expectations of themselves that getting out of bed in the morning counts as an achievement. They don’t want to engage with you, they barely want to engage with themselves. Some call them drop-kicks, others losers. It might then come as a surprise that lying within some of these disengaged young people is an expectation of themselves, a standard that soars higher than anything you dream of for them. Paradoxically it leaves them cowering, helpless, paralysed in its shadow, thoroughly held hostage. This expectation, this standard? Perfection.
They put me in a group, but I would not talk, They put me in a group, I was there but I wasn’t, They put me in a group expecting sharing, enlightenment, support, They put me in a group and instead I battened down the hatches. They put me in a group and I said what they wanted to hear, They put me in a group, my mouth moved but my thoughts did not, They put me in a group until the buttons got pressed and I kicked off, They put me in a group and nothing changed.
Trigger Warning ! The content of what follows may be a trigger for those who have experienced sexual abuse or grooming. I just wanted to be noticed and he saw me. I wanted to feel like someone actually cared, and he made me feel special. I wanted to feel worthy of gifts for once, and he showered me. I wanted to show everyone else that I was somebody. And before I knew it I was somebody, somebody to be abused. At first I was the one, the only one. I seemed like the centre of his world. He’d pick me up, he told me I was beautiful, he showed interest, what I thought was care. And instead of going around dragging my life baggage, of being ignored, of abuse, of care homes, of being picked up and dropped time and time again, by relatives, by professionals, I started to float on air. The baggage weighed nothing because I was somebody. Instead of assuming the colour of my environment, I stood out. And because I was seen, somebody lifted my bags, somebody helped me on my way. Little did I know that while my back was turned the plans for further…
Daydreaming is something usually frowned upon, at least when it’s teenagers doing it! Usually because they are supposed to be concentrating on a lesson, an instruction, a discussion about their behaviour or some other thing that at least you deem to be important. And they seem to do it so much. “Why can’t they just focus?” is a common desperate plea. Yet there are good reasons why teenagers and children seem to spend a lot of time daydreaming. In many ways, rather than us sending out the message that they need to focus more, we need to take a lesson from them in that we need to dream more. While some work often needs to be done to get them to do their dreaming at more appropriate moments, there are good reasons why teens often feel that the world and life has more possibilities for them than we as older adults often do, why they take risks, and why they usually have the resilience to bounce back when things don’t go quite their way. And particularly for those troubled teens who feel swamped in their current circumstances, rather than discouraging dreaming we need to be actively encouraging them. “But why?”…
They love you. They think you’re a great laugh. You’re the cool one, the laid back one. The one who can shoot the breeze with the best of them. As great as the relationship may seem though, we always have to ask the question of ourselves- is this where it begins and ends? Are we doing everything we can to help our teens, to help them get to the point of change, of progressing and growing as individuals?
I’ll hide. I’ll hide with all my might from having to face this thing, to admit this thing. And I’ll hide it from you with all I’ve got, under as many layers of antisocial behaviour that I can muster. In fact I’ll do it so well that most people miss it. Hell, I can bury it so well that even I miss it. So all people see is the binge drinker, the user, the offender, the antisocial scum, the lout, the gobby one, the violent one, the one who doesn’t give a crap, the one who seems to be devoid of care, of feeling, lacking in common decency, common humanity. What people find hard to see, what I don’t want to see, don’t want to have to acknowledge and process, is the pain that courses through my veins. The emotional pain that consumes me. Of life disappointed, of fundamental human needs unmet, of experiences that have skewed my view of the world, of others, of me. A pain that drives me, controls me, brings out the worst and not the best in me.
A worksheet is just a piece of a paper, a group is just a collection of people, an app is 0s and 1s and a DVD is a clear disc of plastic with a thin metallic covering. This we should never forget. It is so easy to imbue all the above with some supernatural power to get the job done, to teach something, to change behaviour. If we use the tools, we’re no fools. We’re cutting edge, we’re interesting and we’re dynamic. If we use any of the above or the latest ‘thing’ we become a model of good practice, the worker that all managers point to as some practice genius. But be warned, we can use all the tools and be real big fools. We can be left with a teen or group of teens who haven’t changed their thinking or actions one iota, who haven’t taken on board anything, or so it seems. We can be left wondering, how did these tools go so wrong? How did these tools, these programs that looked so great, so interesting, lead to nothing? Why does it seem like we haven’t moved forward?
It’s all your fault. All your f’in fault. You can’t just leave me alone, leave me to do my thing can you? You have to meddle, stick your nose in where it’s not wanted. And I hate you for it. I absolutely bloody hate you for it. Everyone’s at it. You’re at it, teachers are at it, social workers, doctors, nurses, therapists, care home workers, you’re all in it together making my life a flippin’ living hell. If you’d just leave me, my family, my mates alone I’d be just fine. Thinking you know better about me and my life than I do, f’in cheek. I hate you, you hate me. Well this is going to work well isn’t it?
‘I’ll do it when this happens.’ ‘I’ll do it once so-and-so has done this.’ ‘I need to sort this out before I do it.’ We’ve all done it. We’ve all put off doing something for the best reasons in the world, or at least so they seem at the time- giving up smoking, exercising more, trying something new to name the obvious few. Armed with top quality justifications finely honed at the rock face of excuses, we put it off. We hold onto our ‘not untils’ for dear life. It’s inaction driven by fear. Fear that change is coming. It’s uncertainty about how it might work out. Fundamentally, it’s knowing that we need to do something and only we can do it. We need to draw on ourselves and summon up the strength, courage and willpower to do whatever it is. It’s all about us, the spotlight is on. And we’re scared of internally falling short, not making the grade. We’re afraid that the spotlight will show us and potentially everyone else our deepest fears about ourselves.
Another bare room. Another caseworker. Another foster carer. Another care home. Another secure unit. Another hostel. Just another, another, another. Cos I am just A.N. Other. Nothing special, nothing worth caring about, nothing worth taking much notice of, except when you want to get me to do something, or stop doing something. Either way it’s about what you want and not much to do with me. I don’t really figure in the equation. I’m just A.N. Other. Apparently suited to being shoved around from pillar to post. So as I live my name and move on to another something, I add my own ‘another’. Another hurt to add to my chest of disappointment, of heartbreak. Of feeling that I only get what I deserve. Of feeling like a nobody and that nobody cares. And as my chest gets fuller, my heart, my hope gets emptier and emptier.
The infographic and video below provide background to the post, ‘A.N.Other: Care Kid Needing Hope’. The infographic reveals the outcomes for young people in care and the video says more than I ever could of how you, as one worker can transform their lives, give them hope and beat those statistics.
I’m a great believer in the simple things in life. Baked beans on toast, a bat and a ball, paper and pen. I’m also a great believer in ‘the new’, progress, invention, creativity, pushing boundaries. The problem can be that sometimes in our never-ending desire to improve, to break new ground, to be adventurous or just make life easier or do things better we can often end up over-complicating something that is really rather simple. Or we forget the benefits of the simple things because we are constantly looking for the next big thing. Or we lose sight of the simple because we are in a love-affair with the complex- the bigger, the better, the more complex, the more complete (or so we think). And this applies to our work with teens as much as it does to our personal lives. It is so easy to over-complicate things, to miss the obvious, to forget the power of the simple over the complex. So using a basic can of baked beans let’s explore why it’s important that we stay connected with the simple in our work with teens.
Go away. Just leave me alone. No, I don’t want to be here. You’re going to make me think about myself, interrogate myself, question my decisions, my ‘consequential thinking’ or lack of it. My actions are going to be scrutinised and you’re going to tell me how I could have done it better. Just go away, go away… ‘Why the opposition?’, you ask, ‘What’s the problem? I’m just trying to help you make better decisions for yourself. You’ll find it makes life easier for you, less complicated, less chaotic.’ No, I’m having none of it. You’re just having a go, picking at me, making me feel more crap than I do already. No thanks, no f’in thanks. You see, when you ask me to think about what I do and about my decisions, my actions, that’s not what you’re really asking. Well at least as far as I see it. You’re not asking me to reassess what I’ve done, you’re asking me to reassess who I am. You’re not questioning my choices, you’re questioning the very essence of me. If my decisions are bad, then I am bad. And I don’t want to look at that reflection in the mirror.
I’m a label, a sticker, a scrawl on a file A person lost in the paper mile That runs from birth to right here now You know me but you don’t and I’ll tell you how My name spells trouble, it’s written ahead In the assessments, the reports, the letters you’ve read You know my circumstance, my life, my woe But any deeper you just won’t go
It’s just me. Just me, on my own trying to work out how to do this thing called life. And well I’m not very good at it mostly. Neither are most of the people around me. So you could say I’m a bit clueless. A leaky boat, cast adrift, praying that the next wave that comes crashing down doesn’t sink me. Even the people who try to help me often don’t really help. They try and take over, try and tell me what to do. They try and climb aboard and declare themselves the captain and issue orders as to what I need to do to get myself seaworthy. Would be nice to be asked. Then I could tell them that I don’t want them to take over- it’s my life. As it is, I often end up throwing them overboard anyhow. I’d rather be stuck on a sinking ship that’s mine, than a fixed-up boat that’s not. Either way, I still end up alone.
Did you knock on my door? Did you want to see? Or was the sterile incomplete description in my report enough for you? Or what your colleague told you over the kettle? Or what my social worker told you over the phone? You want to see what my life is like. You ask me in your appointment room, in the cafe or in detention, to tell you what life at home is like. But why should I bother to tell you? Do you really want to see? Your words tell me you don’t cos if you really wanted to know, you wouldn’t ask, you’d come and see.
Most teens love to resist anything that you might have to suggest to them. Arguing with adults is a daily sport that they love to engage in, particularly when it concerns you trying to make them do something they don’t want to do. They do it at home, they do it at school, they do it with social workers, they do it with youth justice workers. No-one is exempt. When the change that you want them to make involves some seriously damaging behaviour, either to themselves, others or both, and you want them to stop, then the stakes are really high. It might be aggressive behaviour, alcohol or drug abuse, risky sexual behaviour or criminal activity, to name a few. You want to literally shake some sense into them before it’s too late and they end up doing something with dire consequences. Due to the urgency of the problem, the temptation is to lecture, even in the nicest possible way, to highlight the dangers, to tell them why they should stop.
I don’t deserve good things. I’m a piece of crap- I do crappy things to other people, I think crappy things. I don’t deserve anything more than crap. Crap attracts crap. I behave crappily, so you’ll respond in a way that confirms my crapiness. It’s not a circle of life, it’s a circle of crap. And there I stand in the middle, a monument to crap. From this place I find it so hard to do anything that doesn’t confirm this view of myself and mostly everyone else’s view of me. At least this way there are no surprises for them or me. There’s a weird stability and security in choosing to swim through a river of crap rather than stand up, put some shoes on and find a nice dry sensible path to walk on. At least I know intimately what crap looks, feels and smells like. I’ve forgotten what a path is like, why it is worth choosing to walk there rather than swim down here. And so I have to ask you. Please show me, please remind me because deep down I kind of sense that the path is the way to go. I just have no…
In the previous post we looked at the myriad reasons why teens often seem to have an empathy deficit– they just don’t seem to care how their behaviour affects others. Whichever reason or reasons outlined in that post apply to a particular teen, there is an underlying need to help them make up the distance between their actions and the impact it has on others. This post will focus on exploring how we can practically help them make that journey, not just towards a greater understanding of others and how their behaviour affects them, but towards a place where their behaviour improves also. The answers are all in the shoes.
You hear it so often in the media it is the absolute cliché of teenhood. Although it could be applied by the public and the media to every age group who commit acts of anti-social behaviour, it is the youth perpetrators that get the response: “They just don’t seem to care. They don’t give a damn.” Oh, and “scum” often gets thrown in there too for good measure. And it’s not just teens that commit crime that evoke this response from adults. Teens at home or school get a similar response from their parents and teachers too. “He/she just doesn’t care about the effect that their behaviour has on the rest of us. What I am supposed to do when they just don’t care about anyone other than themselves?” So is there something in this? Well obviously yes. Speak to any teen with challenging behaviour and it is very true, they more often than not do not seem to care. They seem to lack the ability to consider others and to view their actions from the perspective of the people on the receiving end. In criminal justice, this is often termed a lack of victim awareness, and in more general…
You know one way of guaranteeing that I don’t talk to you about anything? Ask me straight, ‘how do you feel?’ or ‘how does that make you feel?’ I’ll tell you how asking that question makes me feel- it makes me feel that you can go take a long walk off a short plank. “How do I feel?” What a joke. Do you not get it? Half the time I have absolutely no idea how I feel. I can feel ten emotions in ten minutes, some of them contradicting each other. I can’t makes sense of it all. And even if I can make some sense of it in my own mind, I have no way of knowing how to express it. Asking me to tell you how I feel is sometimes a bit like asking someone to tell you how to tie their laces. You know how to do it, how to physically do it, but you just can’t tell someone how to do it. You have to show them. And that’s what I do a lot of the time. I’ll show you I’m angry at the abuse I’ve experienced by being aggressive. I’ll show you I’m upset and…
In every situation, good or bad, there is always something to be learned. Whether it is a ‘yes, I really got that right’, to an ‘oops, I really screwed up there, must have a rethink’ or somewhere in-between, progress will only be made if we open ourselves up to critical reflection and constantly try to improve. This is often the fundamental barrier that we try to overcome when helping others. Often they do ‘screw up’, problem is their solution is often to bury their heads in the sand and continue to make the same decisions and act in the same way. What they need to do is take the time to honestly reflect on their decisions and actions and to assess whether there is a better way. In last week’s post, ‘The Anger Debrief for Teens’ we looked at the importance of stopping, reflecting and reassessing for teens. This week it’s time to turn the mirror around and to take a look at ourselves.
Teens often don’t know what they are doing or why they are doing it. They ‘live in the now’ in a way that adults often dream of. Yesterday was old news, tomorrow is a millennia away. They are also single-minded forces of nature. They are human juggernauts. They just plough on, full steam ahead. All of this is what can make teenagers so resilient. Their interminable drive takes them places and even when they get knocked down, that momentum means they get right back up again. The problems come however, when they have taken a wrong-turn, like going down the pot-holed road of destructive anger. They often don’t know how, or even have a desire to press the brake, look at a map and correct their direction. Instead they plough on ahead, going down a road full of potholes, somehow thinking that this route is just fine.
After an anger outburst, whether it was a performance or out-of-control rage, comes the fallout. The ‘bomb’ has hit, the consequences and repercussions now come into play. Depending on the amount of explosive and the amount of damage inflicted, the level of control you have over the subsequent sanctions will vary. One thing you can massively influence, however, is the extent of collateral damage that is done to your relationship with a young person and their progress down the road of positive change. The challenge when dealing with the fallout of an anger outburst is that we need to teach angry teens that destructive anger outbursts are unacceptable, while at the same time preserving a good working relationship with them so that we can still effectively work with them and make progress. But surely discipline and sanctions rather mess up the relationship? Surely it’s choosing one over the other? If we dish out sanctions they’re going to get the ‘hump’ and disengage aren’t they?
In the previous post, ‘Anger is my friend’, we explored the vulnerability, the confusion and some of the seeming contradictions of anger through the voice of a teen. In this and future posts I want to take this further and explore how to practically achieve some of the things mentioned in that post so that we can help angry teens break out of negative self-defeating behaviour and help them process their anger in a more positive way. One of the first steps in effectively dealing with anger in a teen is knowing what you are really dealing with, and this will vary from person to person, from situation to situation. At its very base level it is all about ‘reading’ their anger and establishing what they are trying to achieve by being angry and assessing the level of control of their actions. It is only by taking this step that we can appropriately deal with the angry teen in front of us.
You probably don’t realise this but anger is my friend. My best friend. It’s my certainty amidst uncertainty. It’s always there for me, it protects me. It tells me I’m alive. It shows me that I exist in other people’s worlds. And you know what? It often makes me feel good, real good. It shows I have some power, some real raw power within me and I don’t get that any other time. For those few moments I can be king of the world and no-one can take that from me.
I love that bit at the end of the ‘Italian Job’ when the back of the coach is hanging over the precipice with Michael Caine and the gang in the back working out how to stop the gold and themselves from plunging into the valley. We never find out what happens, as the ‘self-preservation’ song kicks in and the credits roll. So what do they do? Do they defeat imminent death by banding together and hatching a joint plan, or do some of them jump ‘bus’ leaving others to fall to their doom? There’s also the added question of the gold. What is the worth of the cargo relative to the worth of their own, and the other gang member’s lives? It’s a decision of the ‘we’ over the ‘me’, or the ‘me’ over the ‘we’. What will each decide?
‘Low self-esteem’ is a label that gets slapped on me and my mates the whole damn time. It’s like you workers have one of those old-school price-labelling machines with ‘low self-esteem’ labels and boy do you love using it. Yeah, there’s truth in it, a whole load of truth but labelling me, right in front of my face really doesn’t help. If you repeatedly say it, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s just another thing for me to feel crap about.
Ever have one of those days, weeks or months that exhaust and frustrate you to your core? We all have them, but how do you stop them from taking over, from stopping you from being effective, from literally ruining your ability to be you at your best? Whether you work in business, in social care, youth work, stay at home looking after the kids or take trips to the moon, your pathway to sanity, to staying at your best and staying motivated lies in the answer to the question: Why do you do what you do?
Navigating the mindfield of friendships, trying to fit in and still be true to yourself is a process that each and every teenager has to go through and for some it is easier than for others. Peer pressure is something that everyone experiences but it is a particularly difficult issue for teenagers as they are in the middle of establishing ‘who’ they are in absolute terms and relative to other teens. This can shift on a daily basis depending on who they are with and how they feel in that moment. Helping them to understand and cope with this, to ‘listen’ to themselves and to fight negative thoughts about self with positive ones can assist them in making the best choices for themselves. Available now to download for free is a high quality programme of peer pressure worksheets and activities designed to help teenagers explore these issues and to ensure that they are in control of their relationships.
I am stuck together with sticky tape. Not your good quality Sellotape or Scotch Tape mind, the cheap stuff that only works some of the time. Put it this way, if I get caught in a shower I’m in big trouble. So trying to get me to change my life or even little bits of my life is no easy ask. All the pieces interweave and ‘inter-stick’ and if you mess with one, you affect the other pieces. Plus if you rip a piece off I will have a big gaping hole, which can be a bit draughty and can have bad effects on my structural soundness. So I will obviously try to stuff the hole in whatever way I can to keep myself together. So if you try to help me take away one of my pieces of tape, one of the parts of my life, be it membership of a gang, excessive drinking, drug use, violence, self-harm you have to think about what I will fill that draughty hole with.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that you can’t make a teenager do what he or she doesn’t want to do. You can’t make them change. You dig your heels in, they’ll dig theirs in further. You shout at them, they’ll shout louder. Coercion can get short term results, but as a long term strategy it is fundamentally flawed. It is not only exhausting, but in the end resentment will build and as soon as they sense you no longer have control, they will revert to their preferred behaviour which is the exact opposite of what you want for them. Respect for one another and real change cannot thrive in a purely coercive environment. We must remember that teens are on the pathway to independence and if you do not recognise and respect this inevitability and deal with them as cogniscent, thinking people with their own opinions, then you are eventually going to come unstuck. This doesn’t mean that you are powerless, far from it. With the right tools at your disposal you can address their behaviour and help them navigate the difficulties of teen life in a supportive, respectful way.
I sit on my backside. I don’t want to go to school. I don’t want to work. I don’t want to talk to anyone. The world can just f*** off. I’m just fine as I am, doing what I do, which is, well… nothing. Doing nothing, not trying anything, not talking to anyone except my mates really, is the best thing I can do for myself. You see, it’s safe. REAL safe.
I’m like a toddler. I have tantrums like a toddler; I swing from ecstatically excited to belligerently uncooperative depending on how the mood takes me. The crux of it is that just like a toddler I haven’t learned self-control. Yes I might be more complex than a toddler in many ways, but hold onto this base fact, it can offer many clues on how you should deal with me.
This may come as a shock, but you don’t know everything. It will undoubtedly come as a shock to most teens that they don’t know everything too. How many times have we heard the old rhetorical when speaking to teens about something that they don’t want to talk about, “What do you know?”.
You want me to change, right? Well just like you don’t try to get a baby to run before he can walk, you don’t try to get me to change until you’ve done the basics with me. And the absolute basic I have to ‘get’ before change is even a vague possibility, is that my life as I am currently living it is not ‘normal’. Most of what I have seen and experienced in my life should never be considered anywhere near that.
“Help, I don’t know what I’m doing” is a common cry from social work students about to go on placement or newly qualified workers about to start work. But why? You’ve just finished a substantial period of training. It should all be fresh in your head, you should be sorted, ready to burst onto the practical social care scene, raring to go, ready to make a difference. Well that is, if you have received practical training in how to communicate and engage with different client groups. Problem is, while you might be an encyclopaedia in the law and in process, what increasing social work students and graduates are saying, is that there is too much emphasis on this, and little on the actual practical ‘stuff’ of social work.
I am more than my past; more than the things that people have done to me, more than the things that I have done to others. Yet just as others find it hard to understand this, so do I.
You cannot have a neutral impact on someone that you see on a regular basis- be it your child, a young person on your social work or youth offending caseload right through to the person that you rub shoulders with at work every day. If you are a ‘regular’ in their lives then you are having a regular impact. You might think that they aren’t listening to you, you might not speak to them much, but by virtue of the fact that you are there- you are making a difference. As a result how you mentally approach each and every interaction is of more importance than you might initially realise.
I am invisible – to others, to myself. It doesn’t matter what I do or say, I remain invisible. My parents didn’t see me, my teachers didn’t see me, people walking down the street don’t see me and neither do the pigs; no-one sees me. They might have noticed me kicking-off, but they didn’t see me.
It is an eternal truth that nobody likes being negatively judged. Even if the judgement is ultimately correct or has elements of truth and you know it, the hackles rise, you are offended and you reject out of hand what is being said. Everything- truth, shards of truth and the rubbish- is chucked on the garbage heap- “what do they know?”
I like to hurt people, to lash out, to destroy. In fact, most people think I am a total piece of crap. But you should know that my crap is only skin deep. It’s not really who I am. Problem is, even I forget that most of the time. The crap is so deep, so well stuck on that it almost becomes an integral part of me. It’s my second skin. But that’s not really how I want it to be.
When was the last time you did something creative- made something, engaged in creative writing, acted, sang or danced? And when was the last time you did any of the above in a session with a young person? Why? What does it matter, you may ask? Well your ability to help them change their lives has a lot to do with it actually.
Drug dealers deal drugs, prostitutes deal sex… well I deal in p***ing people off, and especially you. My broken self doesn’t know why I’m doing it, but my lucid self can tell you now. I am testing you. I am applying the thumb screws and seeing if you’ll scream, seeing if you’ll run, seeing if you are a fully signed up member of the young people’s helpers club.
Take a glance at the behaviour of a difficult-to-engage young person and ‘logic’ is generally not a word you would immediately associate them with. Words such as ‘chaotic’, ‘impulsive’ and ‘unthinking’ trip off the tongue far more easily. However, while these readily accessible words describe the appearance of their outward behaviour, they do not get anywhere near helping you understand what is really going on in their lives.
Hello, this is me. Me if I could talk, me if I could express myself, me if I wasn’t so broken. I want to let you in, into my world, into my thoughts, into the very essence and core of who I really am. I don’t know if you realise this, but I am more than what you see me do, more than the difficult buggar that most days you could strangle.