For the next couple of post I would like to take the time to look at some of the issues that teenagers and children are facing today and how to deal with them in a one on one basis.
For my first post, I just want to give a bit of an introduction and some small words of advice on counseling. If you’re a youth worker, chances are you received limited training in the area of counseling/therapy. I know I did, and most of what I have learned I’ve learned on the fly or by reading some really great books (more on those books later).
Adolescents today face so many issues that you are bound to have to deal with these at some point. There are many that struggle with:
- Suicide (attempted or suicidal thoughts)
- Disruptive Families
- Sexual abuse
- Getting in trouble with the law
- Eating disorders
- Death of loved ones
- Sexual Identity
- Substance abuse
- Relational problems
- Many more…
We’ll look at some of those in depth in the upcoming posts. But there are some key ingredients that you want to have whenever you’re talking to a young person about some of the above issues.
- Be Accepting. If they come to you to talk about something, that means they’re putting a LOT on the line with you. For example, let’s say that Denise is struggling with her sexual identity. She comes to you and pours all of this out to you and you instantly start to tell her she’s going to hell–then you’ve ruined your chance at making an impact. Allow teenagers like Denise to come to you and make them feel that no matter what-you love them! We may not want them to continue suffering with their issues, but we’re going to love them regardless.
- Be Reassuring. Let them know that this isn’t the end of the world. Things do get better. Pains do heal over time. They will eventually heal wounds.
- Listen. That’s a given! But use those signs of active listening. The “Hmm”s and the “uh huh”. Ask questions to let them know you are listening intently. Let them talk and refrain from dominating any of the conversation. The best lessons are learned by self discovery. You may have the answers-but they need to discover the answers themselves. You are there to guide them-not to divulge all you know.
- Allow Time For Processing. You’re not going to solve everything in an hour’s time. Let a week go by before you get together to talk about the issue again. Also, don’t let silence be a bad thing. Give them time to think things out. If a long time of silence goes by, ask them what they’re thinking. Putting it into words helps the processing.
- Focus on the Key Issue. Sometimes, key issues spill into other ‘symptoms’. If Rick is having family problems, a symptom might be about being grounded for a month. Don’t spend all your time dealing with the symptoms of the key issue. Deal with the issue itself and often times the symptoms will disappear.
- Take Time To Plan. This works when you have time before you’re going to talk to someone. If you know Denise is coming in to talk about sexual identity, do some research. See what others have been talking about with their students. A little planning goes a long way.
Here’s a couple of books to pick up for further reading: