Talking to teenagers effectively is a critical skill when guiding them make healthy decisions for themselves. When I was a school social worker, providing counseling for teenagers, I worked with young children, ages 5 to 8 years old. These were easy kids to work with because they liked seeing the social worker and enjoyed counseling.
However, several years later, I began working with middle school and high school kids. This was a different matter. Teenagers can be self-conscious so they often don’t want to talk to a counselor or be seen in the counselor’s office.
My First Mistake in Counseling Teenagers:
The first mistake I made when I started counseling teenagers in school, was to focus on the school’s goal for the student instead of talking to students about their own goals. Of course, schools want students to perform well both academically, as do their parents. However, teenagers often do not share that goal, or feel they are doing fine socially and academically so feel no need to get counseling for those issues. So the mistake was in not asking the teenagers what they wanted to change or improve. Thinking back, I can think of few times when school staff asked students what they wanted. Granted, there are many times when it should not and cannot be the student’s choice as to what their expections are.
A Better Way:
However, one thing I’ve learned as a therapist for teenagers is when it comes down to it, parents, teachers, and teenagers all want the same thing for the teenager. They all want the teenager to be successful, to get decent grades, and have a healthy social life. When you include the student in the process of figuring out what needs to change, the student often chooses things similar to what the adults want. Then. you get more buy-in from the teenager. When you don’t bother to ask the teenager for their input on plans that directly affect them, you minimize their buy in.