Teenagers From Mars

26 09 2011

I’m very fortunate to have started off my real-live, social work career with family work. For one thing, if you can keep a counseling session with eight family members, ages six to fourty-two, mildly productive and with zero fatalities, you can do anything. For another, you get a little bit of everything. It’s a chance to figure out what kind of work you enjoy, and especially, what populations you work best with.

I adore little kids. They’re hilarious and sweet. They’re cute and get excited when you come visit them in school. A leg-crushing hug from a kindergartener is a pretty sweet way to start off your morning.

But the under ten set, adorable though they may be, are really lacking in their conversational skills. If you’ve got six hours to spare, ask a seven year old what she did in school that day. You will get a real time play by play, and learn all about who her best friend is and what flavor lollipops the bodega had run out of. And do they ever ask how your day was? Being able to effectively counsel kids this age is a real skill. It’s not something I consider myself an expert at.

This is despite my love of play-doh and coloring. Those are things I prefer to do one my own. Little kids always mix up the play-doh colors and break crayons. It’s like, really? Do you have any respect?

I’m sorry, this is getting away from me.

My favorite population, it’s no secret, is a commonly despised demographic–teen girls.

I started working with this group somewhat reluctantly. To be entirely honest, I hid under my desk before I was dragged out in time for group. The walls in that office looked like Lucille Bluth’s uterus by the time they got me out. (If you don’t get that reference, I’m sorry, you have some serious work to do.)

I was a lowly intern when a coworker approached me to ask if I would help out with teen girls group. It was one of those suggestions or requests that you don’t really feel you can say no to. Like when your mom asks if you’d like to set the table, or pull up weeds in the garden. Whether or not you think it would be fun doesn’t really seem to be the point.

I wound up being honest. I told her that teen girls scared the shit out of me and that I thought they were mean. I was relieved with the answer I got.

“Oh my God, I know. I was so scared to do this group at first. But it’s been great. They’re actually really sweet. But I’m still really self-conscious about what I wear on group days.”

I came to the realization that, because I was so afraid, I should probably do this. I couldn’t just ignore this age group forever. So I agreed.

It was one of the best things I ever did. Right up there with spending a semester of my junior year in Galway, and watching Avatar: The Last Air Bender.

Teenage girls love to talk about how they don’t get along with other girls. They relate to boys better. Girls are crazy, and bitchy, and it’s not worth it to be friends with them. Unfortunately, some women don’t grow out of this, and carry this attitude into their 20s. They don’t seem to notice that it’s an attitude tinged with misogyny–being “one of the boys” makes one superior, because things that are feminine (being emotional, sensitive, whatever) make one weak. They don’t consider that saying something negative about “women” is saying something negative about themselves.

For girls who hate other girls so much, they certainly seem to have a good time in group. My co-leader and I could hardly get a word in at times. And the exchanging of email addresses, phone numbers, and whatever they’re doing with AIM these days was a constant flurry.

Not to mention how welcome they made me feel in their lives. Like I said, a leg-crushing hug is great. But it’s also pretty nice to hear, “Hi, Miss SJ!” screamed from across the street on your way back to the office in the afternoon. Followed by, “What do you mean, ‘who is that,’ bitch that’s my counselor!”

And no one has ever made me laugh harder. (Sorry, Bluth family.) Ok, it’s sad when a 15 year old says, “Miss, I had a LOT of sex” in response to an inquiry about her weekend, but it’s also giggle inducing for everyone. Or when one girl decided that we should sit down and make a list of all of the characteristics of unicorns.

I still can’t discuss the whipped cream fight that broke out with a straight face.

Of course they also made me cry, but not in the way I was expecting–no one called me fat or asked what I was thinking with those boots. (One actually told me she liked my style. Who talks like that?) But teenage girls feel everything so massively. Don’t believe me? Look at one of your fifteen year old cousin’s or niece’s Facebook page. The drama, the highs and lows, the feelings. Broken hearts, mothers who don’t understand, not to mention the trauma that rose above the level of typical teen angst.

Teen girls get a bad rap. It’s pretty unfair. It’s considered rather acceptable to talk about how awful they are, and mean, and petty. They were thoughtful enough to make hot chocolate for their friend who showed up shivering due to lack of snow boots, to coordinate a Mother’s Day party for my pregnant co-leader, and to accompany one another to the doctor when family members couldn’t be bothered.

They’re young, and they’re still learning. In a desperate need to be accepted, they often engage in questionable activities and often fail to control their impulses or tempers.

But I promise you, sincerely (I can do that), the rewards of work with this group outweighs the drawbacks.

They almost always bring snacks.

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6 responses

26 09 2011
nadia

I have some teen girls I adore… I love that some of them are a bit higher functioning, can carry a conversation and process some issues. Then I have some that I have no idea what to do with.. it can be such a hard (frustrating/discouraging) population at times! With a recent situation wtih one of my girls – I’m also wondering why the hell the morning after pill isn’t just standard when getting checked into detention. *sigh*

28 09 2011
socialjerk

I have dreams of running a combination contraceptive/ice cream truck. Lure them in with treats, then pass out the birth control.

They are a very difficult population, I know the reputation comes from somewhere. There is so much range in their level of functioning and maturity–it’s really interesting to see in group work.

I hope that your girl with the situation is doing all right!

26 09 2011
SocialWrkr247 (@SWrkr247)

I have a few teen girls on my team’s caseload – love em! I hope we can teach them to support each other instead of reinforcing the stereotype that girls are terrible and mean to each other. I love my GFs!

28 09 2011
socialjerk

Watching those feelings of trust and support develop is my favorite part of running group! (Aside from the snack trays.)

26 09 2011
Sarah

I’m a new follower here, and I love this post! I also work in mental health (getting my Ph.D. in Clinical Psych), and I agree that teenagers can be scary. Having run a few teen groups, I’ve slowly gotten over the fear. It’s true that this is a time in their lives where they *feel* so much, and just the act of them realizing that they are not alone with all of that is really worthwhile. Watching them empower themselves and each other is a wonderful thing, and it reminds me that as hard as this work can be, there are so many feel-good moments, too.

28 09 2011
socialjerk

Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Watching the participants start to do the work themselves is one of my favorite parts of this work.

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