by Bruce Neustadter
Early on in my work as a therapist I had a mother and a son come to my office. The mom told me that her fifteen-year-old son was unwilling to talk. Before the session, he made it clear to her that he would not utter a word in therapy. I was intrigued and felt challenged to see if I could engage him during our time together. On a few occasions I would ask him a question and attempt to get his input. He was true to his commitment and refused to respond.
I was fascinated and impressed by the strength of his commitment to himself and to his mother. He would remain true to his word and not engage. At the end of the session I looked at him and simply said “you’re good.” He replied, “thank you.”
I share this story as a simple representation of recognizing the strength of honesty and commitment in this teen. As the session continued I realized that I was hooked by my own beliefs about him being ‘resistant’ to therapy. I never had a teen who didn’t say anything during an entire session. This afforded me the opportunity to evaluate my own thinking. I understood that his strengths lied in his commitment to himself and his word. I knew that the best way to support him was to abandon my own agenda and respect his position of non-communication. This provided me with the therapeutic moment at the end of our session, when our short dialogued acknowledged our mutual respect. Therapy happened.
What’s the point? As mindfulness presenters, educators and teachers, it is critical to understand that we are not selling a product. We are introducing a path. We are providing an opportunity to meet teens just where they are, without predefined beliefs about how they think, what they feel and who they are.
Gene Twinge PHD, recently came out with a book titled, iGen: Why today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy and Completely unprepared for Adulthood. Ms. Twinge has spent voluminous hours reviewing statistical data, interacting with teens and gathering data to make an accurate accounting of who teens are today. As reflected in her title, she concludes that teens are growing up slower, are more connected to family, and that they are potentially unprepared for adulthood. She helps us come to understand that there are significant technological and social influences impacting an entire generation.
The difficulty in relying on any mass conclusions about a generation is that we dissuade ourselves from being present with an individual as they exist in each moment of our teaching. Teens have qualities and capacities that extend beyond our beliefs and expectations. We need to understand that our honest presence in each moment is the most powerful offering we can provide. Through exploration of our own biases and beliefs about youth, we open up the possibility of recognizing authenticity, resilience, emotional awareness and compassion. This exploration of our preconceived biases is critical in our work with teens in order to connect them to a path of self-presence.
Join Bruce Neustadter at the 2018 Bridging The Hearts and Minds of Youth Conference as he presents Authenticity and Presence with Youth; Challenging our Paradigm for Teens.