I use clips from The Breakfast Club in my work

12 07 2012

When you’re studying groupwork in Village of the Damned social work school, they prepare you for certain things. You know, the doorknob effect, mutual support, a lot about the importance of snacks. (Disclaimer: I was a casework major.) You learn about the need for each group to have defined goals, and a purpose.

I’ve run groups with the themes of self-esteem and communication, mostly. I tend to go with those because they kind of incorporate everything, so I can do what I want.

Each group tends to take on a theme of its own, in addition to what I had planned, which guides and tweaks our curriculum. In the first group I ran, the girls were all obsessed with losing their virginity. It bordered on teen movie style fanaticism. So that group was my introduction to the importance of sex ed, and was the first time I asked a room full of people if they knew where their uterus was. Another group, the girls jokingly called “gay club.” By the second day, 80% of them came out as gay or bisexual. So we went with that, talked about dating, dealing with parents…also Naya Rivera came up a lot, but that’s neither here nor there. My last group could have had the Maury Povich style title “I hate my stepfather!” All of the girls were dealing with their mother’s husband or boyfriend, and he was always a massive tool. We spent a lot of time role playing different scenarios, and trying to figure out what would make Mom listen.

In the fiery pits of Mordor social work school, we also learn about the various roles group members take on. There might be a scapegoat, a ringleader, a deviant…whatever. (Again, casework major.) These roles certainly make sense in a group setting. But I’ve noticed some other titles that pretty much always apply. Boy bands and eighties movies need types, and so do girls’ groups.

1) The Good Student. This is the one who all the girls use on their Human Bingo cards for “I love to read.” Very often she has a somewhat quirky interest that the other girls don’t quite get, like anime or death metal. She needs to be encouraged to stop raising her hand before talking.

2) The Comedian. This is the one who must make others laugh in order to know she exists. Everyone loves to laugh, but it’s not the best when you’re trying to lead a group bonding activity or someone is revealing their history of sexual abuse. Great for breaking the ice, not too helpful in staying on task. (See also: SJ, ninth grade.)

3) The Cuckoo Bananas One. This girl reads things on the internet, and believes them. To a degree that’s alarming even for an adolescent. Like, more so than that aunt of yours who keeps forwarding you $250 cookie recipes, or warnings about how murderers are using recorded crying baby sounds to lure women to their deaths. (Snopes is giving out “don’t look ridiculous” for free, people.)

But really. Did you know the government is going to move us all into tiny compounds by the end of the year? And of course 9/11 was an inside job. You can see the strings, people!

At first I thought this was just one wacky girl in my first group. But it’s continued over the years, and I think it belongs in a textbook.

4) The Youngest Child. This one may or may not be the youngest in the group, or even the youngest in their family. They’re just perceive themselves to be at risk of being left out at all times, and as a result laugh a little too hard at the Comedian’s jokes and agree a little too quickly with Cuckoo Bananas’ theories…and then with the people who disagree with her. She needs to be assured that people like her for her, then learn that it doesn’t matter as much as she thinks.

5) The Teacher You Wish Would Stop Teaching. This girl might be a little bit older, have done a group before, or just be a little more experienced than the other girls in the group. She fancies herself a bit of a mentor, which is great until she gives advice like, “you should just do sex once to get it over with” or “make him wash it off first.” (Those are actual quotes. Actual.)

6) The One Who Drives You Insane, Out Of Love. Oh wait, that’s all of them. They love Chris Brown, they idolize Snooki (“she’s herself!” Yeah, and her self is terrible) they disappear for a couple of weeks and return seemingly minus all the progress they’ve made.

But you keep going, welcoming them back and telling them you’re thrilled to see them (because you are!) and remember that, while it’s way too trite and Hallmark movie to say, “you get even more out of group than they do”–the Comedian does make you laugh, the Good Student gives you hope for the future, Cuckoo Bananas keeps you on your toes and comes out with a gem every so often, the Youngest Child is endearing as hell, and the Teacher You Wish Would Stop Teaching just wants to help her friends and is actually learning.

Also, there are always snacks.





Teens are fad-ulous.

26 04 2012

I was fourteen years old when Bill Clinton was impeached. It was a changing moment in every young woman’s life. Well, that’s what I was told by the elderly nun who taught my global studies class. I just thought the world had gone crazy.

On a day home sick in 9th grade, I indulged in that grand sick day tradition–day time television. It’s offensive, it’s terrible, it’s an overall delight. The ladies of The View were yammering on and talking over each other about the negative effects that the impeachment was having on our society’s youth. Yes, like me having to hear Sister Marie talk about the sanctity of the Oval Office being desecrated by “the oral sex?”

No. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Kids are blowing each other left and right.

Huh.

I also heard this on an episode of Boston Public. (Anyone else remember that? I had the misfortune of watching it with my parents. That was awesome.) In the episode, a┬ácouple of students were busted while engaging in the oral sex. They explained that they weren’t doing anything intimate, and one of the kids was running for class president, so it was cool, y’know?

The kind of dialogue written by someone who last spoke to a teenager when they were one. And even then, the conversation was brief.

All of a sudden, everyone was hysterical about how every kid my age couldn’t go a day without going down on a casual acquaintance. I was confused, because I was a kid my age. I wasn’t doing any of these things, and neither were any of my friends. Some people were, but they seemed to be pretty quiet about it, and I doubt their behaviors would have changed if Sister Marie had been president. Certainly, no one I knew had talked to Barbara Walters about any of it.

When I got older, I heard new stories about trends started by this new, terrifying generation.

Law & Order informed me that every child on my caseload had at least attended, if not hosted, a “rainbow party.” That’s when all of the girls wear a different shade of lipstick, perform oral sex on a boy, leaving a rainbow behind. (The logistics of this make no sense and I can’t believe it was ever featured on network television.) Though they might have been too busy at a pill party, when they cleaned out their parents medicine cabinets, dumped the pills in a bowl, and passed it around like Karen Walker party mix. All while wearing bracelets that indicate what sexual activities they’ve engaged in recently (probably sexting), which gained them entrance into their morning after pill based sex cult.

None of this applies to my children’s lives.

One, because most of these panic trends are about upper middle class white kids. Because then it’s shocking, news-worthy, and something must be done. Recently there was talk of kids somehow extracting alcohol from hand sanitizer in order to get drunk. My coworker said that this was old news. The teens she worked with in prison used to do it, ultimately causing them to eliminate Purel altogether. No one gave a shit when it was those kids, but if there’s a possibility that it’s spreading, then it’s interesting.

Two, because they’re mostly made up and stupid. If there is a ridiculous thing on the planet, someone has done it. That doesn’t make it a trend. Of course there are weird trends that catch on for no reason. Back in the day, people used to attempt to cram everyone on their block into a phone booth. Now, I believe people are inhaling cinnamon on the internet. But whatever, it’s a fad. They are fads because they come and go quickly.

The parents I work with so often freak out about trends. The hysteria they hear about. The mother of an acting out, extremely hyperactive eight year old didn’t want to accept that her son might have ADHD. She was, however, concerned that he would be a serial killer, because she read an article in Time magazine that listed bedwetting as a surefire symptom. All of my parents now worry about bullying, which is good if that’s what their kid is dealing with. But most of them aren’t. A lot of their kids are fighting, or jumping other kids. “So, it’s not bullying? All right.”

There are actual problems that our kids are getting into. They might not be new or remarkably creative. A lot of my teens are having sex. Some of them are having unprotected sex. It’s not some new-fangled colorful dick-in-her-ear sex, it’s just the same old pre-marital, maybe-we-have-a-condom, quick-before-my-parents-get-home sex that kids have been having for generations. It shouldn’t have to be something we’ve never heard of to get our attention. We shouldn’t be relieved by the fact that they’re just doing the stuff that can lead to pregnancy and STIs.

Things change, of course. But I don’t think people do. Parent now talk to me about how different things were “when we were kids.” Young people weren’t perfect, but they didn’t dress/talk/act/dance like kids these days! Except we did. I heard that I was a new breed of awful and a part of the most self-centered and reckless generation the world had ever seen. Now I’m supposed to look back on what I was a part of as the last era of childhood with any respect. It goes on and on. Watch Rebel Without A Cause. 1955–they’re juvenile delinquents! Their parents can’t control them! Eek!

Like I said, things change. There are more guns, so fights are more dangerous, and there is more technology, so the urge to take a naked photo of your hot teenage form won’t be impeded by the notion of having to get it developed at your local Walgreens. Overall, though, teens are teens. They experiment because they’re supposed to. If they’re testing boundaries and doing dangerous things, they’re right on schedule. We don’t need to be so concerned that they’re reinventing the sexy, drunk wheel. Think of what interested you as a teen, and what you were doing that you didn’t want your parents to know about. Apply it to the kids you know. Repeat.

Kids know buzzwords and parental hysteria when they hear it. It makes them realize that you’re talking to them as part of an age group that you learned about on TV, rather than as a person. It’s our jobs as the adults in their lives to be aware and talk to them about these things.

Whether or not what they’re doing has ever inspired a Lifetime movie.