The eye rolls… slouching on the couch…. Hands crossed across the body… the silence that is broken by the ticking of a clock… Most people are apprehensive about going to therapy, and teens are no different. I have been working with teens for the several years and if you have worked with teens, you can probably relate. So, how do you, a total stranger who “is just going to tell me what to do” break through these defenses?
I want to share 5 points I have learned through my work with teens:
1. Teens don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. So what you have “degrees” and have “passed 2 grueling tests that earned you letters after your name”. In their world, you are just one more adult who is going to tell them everything they’ve done wrong or what they need to do. Take the time to build a strong foundation and show them that you care.
2. Teens are a lot more resilient than you might think. Some teens have experienced more in their 16 years of life than any of us will experience in our lifetime. In life we don’t have a choice of the family we were born into or some of the circumstances we encounter. Teens have shown us they know how to “survive”. The way that they have been surviving may not be healthy, but as a therapist we get to help teens draw from the strengths that they have used to survive and help them use these skills in a positive way.
3. Let them educate you…. It’s amazing what you can learn by always being curious and keeping an open mind. No one likes a “know it all” so I encourage you to become a “learn it all”. What can you learn from the teens you work with?
4. Don’t overlook self-esteem. Each and every teen I have worked with, and I have worked with A LOT, all face challenges with self-esteem. One of the things that surprised me was how self-esteem and self-worth were interwoven with what brought the teen into therapy. It is true that our brains are programed to believe the negative things we hear about ourselves. It has been said that for every negative comment, a person needs to hear 10 positive comments. What a honor and privilege we have to help teens believe in themselves!
5. Acceptance…. Despite the shoulder shrugs, eye rolls, silent treatment, defiance… Teens want to be loved, understood and accepted. I am not saying that you condone negative behavior, but showing them that the behavior does not define them as a person. There is nothing greater in this world than someone believing in you, encouraging you and supporting you. I encourage you to appreciate the uniqueness that lies within.