Let’s face it…sitting across from a teenager in therapy can be intimidating. Whether it be the eye-rolling pretty girl or cross-armed bad boy, teens are perhaps the most blatant clients a social worker can have. I have been known to crack a teen or two. Here are my 10 tips for opening the conversational flood gates with a teenager:
1. RESPECT…In this day and age an adult, professional or what have you can not simply expect respect. Which may seem outlandish, silly or cray cray, but the truth is many teens have been mistreated, hurt or shamed by adults, therefore the notion of respecting adults as a given can not be easily expected. Do trust that once you show proper respect teenagers are happy to oblige with yes ma’am and thank you.
2. Listen…don’t judge. Many teens do not have an outlet. As a teen myself I was fortunate enough to have a mom who cared enough to listen to my silly thoughts, questions and beliefs. I try my hardest to be this person for teens I meet. Listening to a teens unfiltered thoughts allows them to build trust and gives you a wealth of information, and isn’t this the ultimate goal!
3. Smile…simple and to the point. Always greet a teen with a friendly face. A kid once told me that he was happy to see me each morning because I’m always smiling. They do notice!
4. Be honest, and straightforward…just like respect I make sure that I stress the fact that if I’m honest they too need to share the truth or we will be working on lies. This is easier said than done…teens are accustomed to hiding or bending the truth…but once they realize I am time tested against #7 on the list…I usually get the truth.
5. Channel your inner Wonder Woman…a technique that works well with teens is “I wonder if…” questions. I always reflect and drop a “does that mean…” they love to correct you if you are wrong (which is good, don’t get your feelings hurt) or they think that you can read their mind if you are right…its a win win for rapport!
6. Use Humor…making a teen laugh is always a good sign. I like to think I’m pretty witty, but I’m sure I have been laughed at rather than with more than a few times…which for me, is totally fine because teens respect a social worker who tries. Plus if they see I’m willing to shed the ‘professional’ persona they see from other adults they relax and open up more.
7. Confidentially…In my perspective works WITH a social worker when talking to teens. I always tell teens that I’m immune to gossip and spreading rumors…I could lose my job if I took what they said out of the room. Upon explaining the 3 exceptions I stress the fact that its just as important for me to keep them safe by sharing any dangers with someone that may be able to help.
8. Be Nosy…in a good way. One of the reason social media like twitter and Facebook are so popular for teens is the fact that they get to share their thoughts, feelings and interest with others. Teens love talking about music, movies, likes and hates…this has NOT changed. So go for it…Ask teens about them, get to know them and be sure to show a real interest in those interest.
9. Remember the details…Teens may admit it or not…but they are absolutely impressed when you follow up on details. This shows you listen and even more important –that you remember and care!
The last tip is not unique to teens but is crucial…
10. Start where they are…Try your best NOT to come with a set agenda…do come with direction but allow the teen to feel a sense of control. Don’t be afraid to play a ‘one down’ approach with teens. Allow them to teach you about their life and what they’ve experienced…this helps you help them!
And with that said I hope this helps…its not all inclusive but it works! Let me know what works for you!!