If there’s one thing social workers love, it’s
cake empowerment. We talk about it all the time. Every one of those staff meetings I so adore come back to questioning how we can further empower our clients. Self-determination! Let them formulate their own goals! Include their input in the planning process! Have them choose their own seats!
Am I allowed to decide when I get a haircut, or should that be left up to the clients to vote on?
Teen group follows the same principles. Yes, they’re kids, but they still have ideas and goals that should be included in our work. That is to say, what they want to get out of group is just as important as me wanting them all to improve their self esteem, be able to talk to their caregivers without screaming, and write a list of the pros and cons of every major form of birth control in under seven minutes.
This starts from the very first session. Particularly when working with teens, what’s most important?
As fun as we like group to be, we need rules. Have you ever had a roomful of thirteen to sixteen year old girls? You’ll want to impose some order, if your goal isn’t to leap screaming from a second floor window.
Now, telling them what they are and aren’t allowed to do is not particularly empowering. It comes from the group leaders, not the group, and it’s negative and sounds like school.
So we start by having them talk about what they want in group.
“Friends.” I like that. Nice.
“To talk to people who know what I’m going through.” Excellent. I’m so on board.
“Sex.” What the hell?! “I said snacks.” Oh thank God. Yes, those will totally be provided.
“Can we go on trips?” Well, we can try. Money is a little tight. Does Target count as a trip?
“Oh, I want to go to the mall. Like, if we’re good.” Yeah, I think this is getting away from us.
Let’s talk about what we don’t want in group.
“No boys.” All right, I think we’ve done it. Also, refreshing sentiment.
“No cursing.” Is that realistic? “No cursing at each other.” I hope we can all do that.
“No gossipy bitches.” I think we’re going to have to reframe that. Confidentiality?
Speaking of which, nothing polishes those reframing skills like a group of teenagers. I am the spin master. (I’m being told that this means I’m not welcome on the O’Reilly Factor, which is good because I’d embarrass that guy horribly.) There’s nothing I can’t turn.
“Miss, if this girl does not stop talking shit, I’m gonna slap her.”
“So you’re feeling frustrated with the way she’s addressing you, but you’re recognizing your own limits, and trying to keep things from escalating? I appreciate that.”
“…oh. Well. You’re welcome.”
This is an important skill, for many reasons. Especially when working with people in large groups, especially when those people are teenager, there are rules that you ned to lay down in order to get some work done. And it really helps if you can make people feel that those rules came from them.
SJ: “Who has a suggestion for a rule?”
Teen: “No interruptions.”
SJ: “Yes! I love that. Let’s talk about why.”
Teen: “You’ll miss what other people are saying?”
Teen: “People will feel disrespected?”
SJ: “Yeah, definitely. And I think something that goes along with that, wanting to be respectful, know what others are saying, is getting here on time. And being here every week. So we’re not missing things. What else can be an interruption?”
SJ: “Who has a cell phone? Let’s turn them off now. Great rule.”
Teen: “I said all that?”
I have to, with that last one. A teenager will not suggest a no cell phone rule. They don’t understand that texting while someone shares the details of her latest suicide attempt just isn’t the best way to show you care.
So we’re all set for group, it seems. What happens in group, stays in group. (Unless you’re talking about harming yourself or someone else.) Call if you can’t make it to group. (You think your grandma worries? She’s got nothing on me.) Push yourself to share. (Not too much. Unless you need to get a good cry in, in which case go for it.) No cell phones. (Except for SJ’s, because there’s no clock in the room. And how else am I supposed to live-Tweet?)
With rules like these, clearly laid out in magic marker, how could anything go wrong?
I’ll keep you posted.