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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
“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.
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?
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?
‘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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?”.
“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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.