Monday, October 22, 2012

Youth trust youth workers that trust them

You're not superman or wonder woman.  At least I'm assuming that to be the case.  Even if you were, I've read enough comic books to know that they have some seriously bad days.  I do to.

Traditionally the early fall is a bit back for us as we slowly get involved in the new pace of life of the students around us.  This year however we have been given so many opportunities that we have hit the ground running at about 350 Miles Per Hour.  They are good things, and I love thinking about all the possibilities, but at the same time - I feel like I can't keep up the pace.  Almost as if my feet are stuck in concrete.

Actually one of the youth work tools we use is called a "gingerbread" man - which helps us use art as a means of getting youth to communicate their emotions.  Here is the one I drew at the beginning of the month.

As you can see my head is spinning from all the ideas that I have.  My hair and my clothes are unkempt as I have had little time to care for myself and I feel like my feel are trapped in concrete.  I simply felt like I couldn't keep up.

For some of us, we are tempted never to tell young people when we are having a rough time, we want to appear professional, or that we have it all together.  We want them to have a good role model after all.

However good our intentions, we may be inadvertently alienating kids who don't have a concept of a life without problems.

We can show our respect for them as well as giving them an example of how to cope with our issues in healthy ways by allowing them an idea of what happens in our own heads.

Kids don't need to know all the details of hardships - some of those things may not be helpful, but they it is better, in my opinion to share something rather than nothing.  You never know, in trusting them with your life they may be more inclined to trust you with theirs.  And they may be just the person to guide you in a hardship right when you need someone.

How thought has the power to save or destroy youth

In a recent discussion with a group of youth we talked to them about the power of thought.  With the 60,000 plus thoughts that we generate each day, the overwhelming majority of them are negative.  Which is not really a surprise to you as you read this.  After all if you started cataloging all of your thoughts you would probably start to feel quite negative about yourself, the list you are writing, the government, the neighbors dog or whatever else bugs you. 

A lot of these thoughts are nearly in-perceivable in our day to day lives. We react emotionally to the thoughts before we even realize that we had the thought.  As teens go through their lives, they are bombarded by their own negative thoughts and many of them struggle with depression, anxiety and anger.

One of the things I talk about a lot with young people is the ability to take the thoughts captive - to grab on to them and filter out the lies from the truth.  For example a young girl may be watching TV when she suddenly feels depressed and makes herself throw up to feel better.  She is externalizing pain from emotion, but emotions cannot happen without guiding thoughts.  The thought could have been triggered from any internal stimulation from events of her day, seeing a unrealistic image of a woman on the TV, or simply just be a random though of disgust about herself.  It happens.

(On a side note: I take this concept of capturing thoughts from the Bible.  In 1 Corinthians 10, the writer known simply as Paul, talks about taking our thoughts and making them obedient to following in the pattern of Jesus.  This reinforces the idea that sometimes our thoughts work against us.  If a young person is a follower of Jesus or not they can be taught how to capture thoughts.  The helpful thing in remolding the thoughts towards the person of Jesus is that thoughts are easier to bridle then delete.)

The conversation that we had with these young people progressed into how the thoughts of others can influence us as well. In a world where we are exposed to so much sarcasm and cynicism in our relationships with others it is sometimes difficult to hear positive messages about ourselves even from the people who love and support us the most.  What we end up hearing are all the negative things broadcast by others, some audible - some not.  However they are communicated we perceive the negative very quickly.

One of the young people illustrated this is a piece of art that broke my heart.  Look at it and catch a glimpse of what life is life for this young person every day:






As a youth worker it is critical to help young people learn to think.  One of the most powerful ways is to simply be present in their lives and offer encouragement - encounter the lies they believe about themselves - and to model what it means to have healthy friendships and interactions with others.  That last one can be the hardest, and often times the most important.  Has sarcasm gotten out of control in your own life? 

How to think like a teenager. (not really).

I have spent many years as a youth worker and before that I was a teen myself.  I like to think that I am a relatable guy when it comes to youth issues. 

However, the only real experts are the youth themselves.  To prove this point I recently asked a group of youth workers what the following youth culture slang meant, they didn't get any right.  Lets see how you do:


 Is it a new product from Apple Corporation?  Nope: This phrase indicates the time delay of time from when the light turns green and the movement of the car because someone is looking down while using their phone.


Interestingly enough as our world becomes more digital how certain phrases that we use become out of date.  In this case, if you were having a traditional conversation with someone and they gave you shocking news you might say that you were speechless.  However you can't be speechless where no speech is involved.  Hence in a text message or online conversation you would be "typeless".


If someone takes something of value from a store it is called shoplifting.  However, what is  is called if you leave something of value in a store or a public place?  I guess it is called droplifting.  Apparently some youth use techniques such as this to promote their CD's and art is public places.


To Truthenize someone is to use "truth" to destroy someone's self image.  It is hurtful truth.


This is a phrase I hear way to often.  It is an acronym describing a lifestyle philosophy akin to "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" however this is much less health: SWED stands for smoke weed every day. With the idea that you shouldn't be held down to the ideals of society against weed as a drug.


Yolo is another acronym meaning: You Only Live Once and while it can be used to describe a healthy motivation, it generally is used as a defense for teens risky behavior such as excessive drinking.

For me, I don't generally try to add words like this to my vocabulary, as kids would recognize it as not being genuine, however it is excellent for me to be fluent in their culture and understanding how they speak and how they think.  The best thing to do when they use a phrase you don't know is to ask.  Become an expert by asking the experts.  Teens themselves.