On the importance of not getting all caught up in our expertise, superior knowledge or experience and forgetting to do the most important thing of all with our troubled teens- listening.
You think you know. You think you know what’s going on in my head, in my life, in my everything. Why I blow up in anger, or why I’m withdrawn, why I use coke, why I skip school, why I’m silent when you essentially ask me WTF? God you probably think you know why I put jam on my toast. You think you know. Well you don’t. Whether you have studied for five years, whether you have worked with troubled kids for ten, whether you have lived with me for fifteen, I have to tell you that you do not know. Why? Because when you over-rely on what you know, you do not rely on what I know. What I know of my existence, what I have experienced, the thoughts and emotions that whirl around inside me. You might see outward manifestations of all of that, you might see my dysfunction, but you do not know my inner world. The biggest tell-tale for me that you do not know is when you do not ask. It is when you tell me what I feel. It is when you tell me why I am doing what I’m doing and punish me…
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.
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.
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. …
IMAGE PUZZLEHEAD 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…
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 to create memorable endings with your teens that increase their chances of future success.
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.
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…
"When I blow outwards, when I lash out, when I destroy, I test the limits of sympathy, of compassion. But what if you could actually see the pain that drives my actions?"
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?
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.
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
On coming alongside our teens and providing them with the tools to solve their problems rather than just taking over. They are the captains of their own ship.
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.
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…
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…
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.