working with teenagers

Even before I started going back to school and focusing on psychology, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do with my life: working with people who had general life problems. But as I focus that even tighter, I realize that I’ve always wanted to work with teenagers. Why is that? The more I study psychology, the more I realize how fascinating the adolescent development stage is.

There are so many questions that I have, that I have to wonder how it is people deal with it. I’ll admit that part of the reason for my quest is to find answers that I myself, still struggle with. I think in a lot of ways I’ve always had a mental capacity of someone twenty years older than me. I’m not claiming a high intelligence or anything like that, rather that my mind was always churning out so many possibilities and trying to understand societal factors at a really young age. As an example, in my introductory sociology class, I find myself constantly getting frustrated at the material presented, because I understood this stuff when I was about ten years old. I just “got it” really early on. It makes me a little upset when doing the coursework, because I keep looking for deeper answers and insight to the issues, but this class is only going to be able to go into the basics, just because of it’s broad academic goal.

Anyway, the reason for all of that is that while I had a lot of external social factors figured out early on, I never really understood relationships myself growing up too well. In fact, it’s safe to say I still struggle with that a great deal. Which is one reason that studying to help out youth is so helpful to me as well.

Consider all the things that are being developed during adolescence. It’s a lot of firsts, and it can be a completely terrifying and crazy time. Teenagers start to develop real, deep relationships for the first time. In some cases, they are introduced to their first romances. They develop the skills to create real relationships that have meaning and structure, that are beyond simpler ones where in their younger years, they innocently played together. For the first time, they have peers that they can relate to on an emotional level, and share with them those unique perspectives.

I have *always* had the opinion that teenagers get written off way too easily, and that has always fueled my desire in part to be someone who gives them a listening ear for a change. Adults generally shrug off problems that teens have and either discount their issues (which, from their perspective, really aren’t that important) or just throw out platitudes like “You’ll grow out of it.” For someone going through that, at the time, making light of the situation just tells them that you are not someone they can discuss their feelings with. So, I try to listen, listen, listen, and hear what they are saying.

I’d like to say that I’m good at it, but unfortunately, I’ve seen myself doing the “adult” thing sometimes, and trying to jump straight to a lecture when someone tells me what they’re going through, or just thinking the whole “drama” is entertaining.

As adults, in retrospect, we think that the issues that youth are going through are trivial. And for adults, they are. But the problem for the youth is that this is the first time they’ve ever even had these types of issues.

What is it about growing up that makes us change so much? Yesterday I was at church, and I saw some little kid about four years old running through the halls having the time of his life. He would get stopped by some random elderly mother who would give him a pat, a hug, and a kind word. That’s your entire life when you’re a little kid. Having fun, running around, playing with toys, and everyone telling you how sweet and wonderful you are.

Then, as you transition into being a little older, people don’t constantly give you hugs. Instead, you start to look like an adult, so people treat you like one, whether you are emotionally prepared for that or not. Responsibilities are heaped upon you, procedures and details become more important as you gain emerging autonomy. Everything is just confusing.

Then there is the transition into adulthood as well. What purpose of life do teenagers have? Adolescence is a temporary lifestyle, and people do “grow out of it.” It seems to me in a lot of ways that the individualism that teenagers search for with such tenacity disappears as they enter school and the workforce and learn to conform to the status quo instead, and just disappear completely. What happened to those people who just a few years before, were so full of thoughts, and ideas, and dreams? Where do all those things disappear to? I think about that one a lot, in particular, because I, myself, have a bit of a Peter Pan complex, I suppose. As an adult, I’m just doing everything that I always wanted to as a teenager because now I have the means available. But in my perspective, I’m just trying to live my dreams that I’ve held on to all these years, and I don’t really see anything wrong with that. I’m happy following that path.

Teenagers just experience an interesting, unique time of life. They’ll never be the same way again. It’s a great time to really, have time, to explore life and it’s subtleties, and think about what it is they want to do. It can be pretty confusing as so many external factors suddenly become important socially and personally. It’s the time when lifelong perspectives and opinions can take seed. How could people discard and ignore those where when they are the most vulnerable and the most curious at the same time? That’s the kind of situations I want to work with, if only because I feel like I have an extreme level of sensitivity to what they are going through. It’s the chance to work with people before they’ve settled into their routines. It’s before they become bigots, poets, writers, workers, religious, biased, and whatever else you can think of. Fascinating time period, I think. Completely volatile and chaotic, but at the same time, it’s an awesome experience to talk with people who are still completely open minded and not settled in their ways.

Good times. That’s what I wanna work with. :)

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4 Comments

Filed under Adolescent Therapy, Psychology

4 responses to “working with teenagers

  1. Good points! I work with teens in a library and it’s easy to write off their issues when they’re sassing back or being generally rude, but they are going through their own things and just don’t trust adults often because we write them off or restrict them from what they think is freedom.

    I, too, am doing all the things now I wanted to do as a teen but didn’t have the wherewithal to do. Nice to know I’m not alone!

    • Yah, sometimes when I get upset with youth, it’s such a temptation to pull out the disciplinarian card and drop the banhammer on them to reinforce in their minds how right I am. It’s pretty rough being an adult sometimes, and it seems like some adults just love the opportunity to remind teenagers of how miserable they’ll be in a few years.

      Crazy rant is crazy.

      I did start a new blog just recently btw where I’m migrating this specific content to. Here you go: http://workingwithteenagers.wordpress.com/

      Take care. :)

  2. Really good post! And as most of adults, I now let myself experience the things that I couldn’t when I was a teen… everything was so confusing back then and adults were so judgmental… and trust me I was fast back in the days!!! I’m exploring the possibility to work with young adults myself, and this is how I found your blog! If there is any way to contact you to get some advice on how to start, please, let me know.
    All the best

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