Simplicity, baked beans & our work with teens

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.

Wow, a new electric can opener to open my beans!

We can become so obsessed with the next ‘promises to fix everything’ intervention program that we forget to hold onto the simplicity of what we know works, whether backed up by research or not. We forget what sounds right coming out of our own mouths and we surrender our own judgement and thinking in favour of the latest set of one-liners. Yes, we must adapt and constantly seek to learn, but not at the expense of losing the simple clarity of our own voices.

Haricot beans served in a tomato jus, wrapped in fer-blanc

In trying to navigate through the minefield of their emotional and behavioural issues we can often be looking for complex explanations when the reality is really much more straightforward. Like Kevin who kicks off at school for apparently no reason, who bullies academically gifted students, who defaces signs in his town, who loves keep it simplenothing more than nicking piles of newspapers from outside newsagents and setting fire to them. A boy wildly out of control? Anger management issues? ADHD? Fire-setting potentially linked to sexual abuse? No, although all of the above could provide a complex explanation. The reality is much simpler- he can’t read a word. And why? He’s dyslexic but no-one knows it yet. Address that issue and you in the main address the rest.

Over time and with support for his dyslexia he no longer tries to avoid being discovered as a ‘dumb-ass’ by kicking off and getting chucked out of class. As he comes to terms with his dyslexia and begins to learn to read he no longer resents those who can read well and doesn’t feel the need to bully them anymore, particularly as they are now offering peer support in the classroom. He no longer demonstrates his frustration at words he can’t read by defacing signs and burning newspapers. Instead, week by week, he experiences little internal victories when he can decipher the signs that used to scream ‘idiot’ at him.

So we mustn’t forget to look for the ‘simple’ as well as the complex. We may be making our work a whole load more difficult and ineffective by overlooking the straightforward answer.

Euggghhh, dog food? Why didn’t I read the label?

Even where there is complexity we can forget to use the simple structures of life, the seemingly banal to help us understand, to help us unpick it all- times of day, days of the week, anniversaries, birthdays, deaths, places, people.

Like the fact that Joe always kicks off on a Wednesday because he has contact with his Mum on a Tuesday and they always end up arguing. Or Tracey is uncommunicative on a Thursday morning because she routinely gets trollied with her mates the night before because she sees her therapist on Wednesday afternoons and it brings difficult emotions to the surface that she wants to suppress. Or Jayden who goes out joyriding every Saturday night without fail because that was when he used to stay over at his Uncle’s when he was younger and he’d rather focus on extreme driving with a good bonfire at the end than on remembering.

You’d be amazed how often something as simple as noting the day of the week and times of day along with levels of engagement and types of behaviour exhibited can reveal patterns. This then offers you ways in to talk about the stuff of their lives, to establish what settles and unsettles them:

days of week

“I’ve noticed that Wednesday’s generally aren’t good days for you, would you agree? Do you have any idea why?….. What do you get up to on Tuesdays?”

Alternatively explore further by getting them to create a timeline of a typical week for them and then discuss, informed by your observations of how they seem each day, and at points within those days. This can also help you gauge how chaotic their lives might be- ‘most of the time I ‘av no bloody idea what day it is. I only turn up here cos you call to remind me in the morning’– being a classic example.

Surely there must be an easier way to get the beans out than stabbing the can?

And down to the seemingly simplest of the simple- in our endeavours to get the job done, to ‘fix them’, we forget the basics of good communication, the openings and closings- the ‘good to see you’, ‘how was your week?’, ‘good luck in your footie match.’

We can employ all the techniques in the world but if we don’t show an interest in their lives and in them as people by making time for this sort of chat, then they will feel like objects. Objects that we ‘do stuff to’ with our hocus pocus language, methods and activities. And they will object to being treated like an object, and quite rightly too.

So don’t forget the baked beans is what I’m saying. Look for the simple first and never underestimate what can be achieved with them. Yes, sometimes they will not be enough, but you should always have a can in your cupboard. That’s just good teen economics.

What simple things work well for you? Please share in the comments below. It’s always great to hear from you.

Anger management not working?

1 comments On Simplicity, baked beans & our work with teens

  • Love this post! We sometimes forget to look at the obvious. For me with my own daughters I try to make sure we spend time talking about the little things and then it makes discussing the big things a lot easier!

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