Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Think Like A Teen?

By Susie Kroll

Self-reflection is something I believe extremely important and often under-utilized.  The question I pose is this:  Have you taken the time to think about your beliefs and values and then compared them to those you held in your teens?  Furthermore, have you examined what has changed about you and your beliefs or how your perspective has changed since you were a teen? 

The reason that I pose this question is that I think it is very important to see the differences in things that teens and adults place value or belief in.  Obviously, as a teen one’s beliefs and value-placing tend to change and shift once that teen becomes an adult.  Some people find that they have changed their core beliefs significantly from their teenage years.  Others may find that they gravitate back to the values that their parents had, maybe because as teens they didn’t think what their own parents believed was important then.  Still yet, others may find that they have reinforced their childhood values in their adult lives.  Things or beliefs that teens hold dear at 15 or 16 can be much different than the things they will come to value at 35 or 40.  I believe it to be the natural progress of life, age, and the wisdom and experience that comes with age. 

The reason I find this self-reflection so valuable is that I spend a lot of time with teens.  As a speaker and educator in the field of Teen Dating Violence and Healthy Relationships, I am keenly conscious of the attitudes and ideas that teens hold and how they can differ from what is important to people as they age.  Perspective is a powerful tool in reaching teens when you want them to understand the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships.  For example, I could walk into a class of 14 year olds and talk about marriage, relationships, and domestic violence.  Having tried that and then read my reviews later, I’ve learned a few things.  First, is that the kids listen and compare what I am saying to their parents or guardians as they are the married ones.  Following that, there is little if no connection to the relationships the kids are in because for the most part, marriage is a far-off and foreign concept.  Some of the other comments I have received state in many different ways that teens see their lives as long and marriage is only something you do when you’re old (old like 35 or so). 

So why would I use my own adult perspective to try and teach teens about dating violence?  The answer is I wouldn’t, having seen it fail when I first became a speaker.  Teaching teens about unhealthy and healthy relationships is so much more effective when you reach them in terms of their daily lives and current value systems.  For the most part, as a 14 year old, it isn’t important that a potential boy or girlfriend have a successful career.  But it is important that they maybe have a car or are cool and popular.   

Reaching a teen using their values, beliefs, and experiences is much more effective than trying to use abstract or future experiences to guide them.  If a teen can learn the same lessons via a frame of reference that they are familiar with, then the lesson will translate into expectations in later life.

By virtue of being and adult now, I have learned more, seen more, and become more aware of the world around me.  What I value and believe in has shifted from when I was a teen.  I remember as a teen being wholly wrapped up in my life, school, and most importantly, my friends.  I would hear what my parents were telling me and then go right back to my life concerns all the while thinking that my parents just didn’t understand.  In talking with them now, they tell me that they had the same thoughts regarding their own parents. 

So what is the moral of the story, so to speak?  As adults we have the luxury of having been both a teen and an adult during our lives.  Teens have yet to have that experience.  As adults, caregivers, and educators, it is vital that we don’t forget how we felt as teens and apply that to how we view and interact with today’s youth.  As adults with concerns like mortgages, bills, babies, marriages, jobs, and world issues it is hard to remember that for a teen the equivalent to the fighting in Libya is why their best friend from 3rd grade isn’t talking to them anymore because of a boy they both like.  One issue isn’t more or less important than the other if you consider values and perspectives. 

So when you sit down to talk to your teen about anything and everything, from the seriousness of dating violence to the fun stuff like prom and football, remember perspectives.  You just might find a deeper connection and then both teens and adults might just learn something from one another.   

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