Be Smart…Ask Questions
After my husband read the short story that I posted a few days ago, which I called a rant by the way, he asked me a question. He wondered if I had really thought about how to address teenagers that were engaging in behaviors that bothered me. He asked me if he thought that a teenager would really consider changing a behavior that I had a problem with if I told them that it bothered me. He said they would probably just call me a bitch, and disregard whatever I had said the minute that I walked away from them. He was probably right.
He had a good idea though. He said that if I could get the teenager into a conversation about their behavior, and ask them why they might imagine that I had a problem with it…they might actually think about it. I am sure that this is much easier said than done, but it makes a lot of sense, right? It is kind of pitiful that we must attempt to break down the behavior of this strange creature we call the teenager in the same way that we might study a wild animal. There needs to be an open channel of communication between young people and adults though. We need to find a way to force the channel open, when the majority of teens just want to close it off.
Asking questions is vitally important. Weather attempting to speak to a kid in your neighborhood, your own teenager, or a niece or nephew…think of it like giving an interview. Try not to ask them questions that they can answer with just one word. The idea is to coax them out of their shell. From my experience, I have discovered that teenagers are actually pretty cool people. If you can get them engaged, you will probably discover that they are interesting, creative, and curious. Being at that age is just miserable…a sort of awkward limbo. I think that the majority of teens are just trying to shrink against the wall and make themselves invisible, waiting for the years to pass.
For a period of time when we were younger my husband and I were fostering boys who had been court ordered to attend a substance abuse program. We housed four different boys through that program. It was hard work, they had to be supervised 24/7 unless they were at treatment during the day with their counselors. It was extremely fulfilling work though. I learned so much from those boys, and I can honestly say that they really weren’t bad kids…they were just living in bad situations. These boys, who a lot of people might think would be dangerous, were not. They all did have a tendency to get into trouble by making poor choices, but they were all smart and funny and even kind. That’s when I determined that intelligent kids are way more likely to get into trouble.
Be open with teenagers. It is amazing how much of a response you can get back if you honestly share a little of yourself. Don’t forget that kids are smarter these days too. You don’t have to be up on all of the latest pop music to carry on a conversation with a young person. Bring up the Beetles; they probably know more about the band than you do. When you ask questions and they can share their knowledge, it gives kids confidence. They will appreciate that you are helping them to build it.
In regards to calling out a teen’s bad behavior in public; I am no expert. I am relatively certain I won’t have to wait long for one of those situations to present itself to me again though. I am determined not to do nothing about it the next time. I plan to approach and not to confront. I plan to keep in mind how unhappy I was at sixteen. I intend to seek to understand their perspective. I hope that my efforts will result in the kid walking away thinking about their behavior, rather than further mentally disconnecting form every adult that they know. It does, indeed, take a village.