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.