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?