Working with human beings, some believe, is a very complicated task. They are “complicated,” they are “selfish,” and they “never listen.” There is one particular group of human beings that is often considered to be especially challenged in these ways: THE TEENAGER. Yes, there certainly is a fair amount of proof from parents and other adults that the raging hormones and the constant pushing of boundaries makes communicating with a teenager difficult. As a result I have become curious, why is this one of my favorite groups of individuals to see in the therapy office?
There are a predictable set of circumstances that occur when a teen sits in my office. They will look at me suspiciously, as if I have some very insincere reason for meeting with them. Sometimes they will not talk to me. Occasionally I will get one word sentences. Then there are the outliers that talk to me like they have not spoken with anyone in weeks! I have sat for 50 painstaking minutes in total silence with a teen because they were not “in the mood” to talk. I like a good challenge but my main goal was to help them have mental wellness and since talk therapy is my training talking is a crucial piece of the process.
Finally, I just started asking them why they had such unconventional communication styles and resoundingly the answer was some form of “Reina, nobody listens to me, ever.” A whole group of people, at the threshold of adulthood with so much potential, and they are tuned out by those that have the power to mentor them into the exciting next phase of life. When I realized this I saw that I could make an important difference in the lives of these humans if I did one simple thing: listen. These non-verbal, one word, anxious-talking individuals started to talk about the areas of life that were causing their suffering and, by listening to them, we were able to reach goals that previously had not been attainable because of mental health challenges.
I met some of my greatest teachers in these teens because they have so much bottled up wisdom that they were so happy to share once they knew that somebody was actually listening and collaborating instead of making demands and giving commands without considering what will most help them. Bear in mind, they do not trust many adults because they have had a lot of experiences of not being listened to. So, it will take some time for them to share but, with some patience and persistence, they will share and your relationship will strengthen and they’ll be able to heal from their traumas in a supportive setting. Everyone deserves to be heard and supported, this is a crucial part of achieving mental wellness.