Teen Spirit

Youth groups are truly an amazing beast. They tend to take on a life of their own, for good and sometimes not so good. When I am facilitating a youth group I am often in awe at the wisdom that comes to the table and when the mood is just right, we get to hear the most brilliant morsels of teenage insight.

Yesterday I ran 2 youth groups. One group is for youth who are deemed to be relatively stable and without much substance use. I created the course content with two colleagues in my field and we each bring to the table a unique perspective on our training and experiences in working with adolescents.  The other group is a drop-in style where we merely open the floor for discussion based on what the youth need to discuss in that given day. Each group has its challenges, and yesterday was no exception. Many of the youth were not ready to hear advice from the seasoned counsellors in front of them. They were being “defiant” and uncooperative.

Or were they?

Isn’t it the task of the developing teen to question things? To not just follow, but to find their own way?  Well we got a truckload of that yesterday. After working hard on developing our material in an age-appropriate manner we were slapped with that beautiful teen “attitude” that was not interested in what we had to share. We had to do something fast in order to secure attendance in the following week. I could feel that they were winning the battle, but I was Damn sure gonna win the war. We did what any professional would do who works with teens…we dumped the material. We put on some music. We let them vent. We laughed with them. And they had smiles on their faces.

Are you kidding me?  I did not spend 10 years in post secondary education to indulge in a kids mood. What am I really doing here?  Did we select the wrong kids for this group? 

These are the questions I asked myself right before I turned on a little music montage and suddenly observed energy in the room lift like a cloud of smoke. They were talking. Laughing. Bouncing in their chairs. So we engaged. We took the opportunity to weave in the curriculum and did it in a way that they would hear us.

It reminded me to slow down. We are often overwhelmed with the energy of “teaching” or “parenting”.  It has a distinct smell to it that teens can detect a mile away. Our pushing energy feels like a full-blown panic state to teens.  They shut down. They look at us with contempt. And as I am on the cusp of the teen years with my own son, I am reminded that to go fast, I must go slow. Most useful training I have ever received, and did not learn at university.

As parents, and as professionals working with adolescents we must remember to go at a snail’s pace at times. Learn at the speed of technology, but teach with the patience of a Monk. Listen a hundred more times than advise. Ask with genuine curiosity, not entrapment.

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