I recently had the opportunity to spend five days with seven amazing teen women doing community service at the Howling Acres Wolf Sanctuary in Oregon. My eldest daughter has arranged this annual camping trip since she was in middle school and I tag along to drive, cook, provide first aid, reminders about bug spray and sunscreen, and do a lot of dishes.
This year I also gave some feedback to a couple of new teens that was not well-received and the experience set me to thinking about the role of adult mentors in the lives of teens. I think as adults, it is easier to just watch teens, make our own judgments about their behavior, but unless they are our own, refrain from helping them reflect on those behaviors.
Sadly, I think this lack of feedback from adults does not benefit youth. I am of the mind that teachers, doctors, counselors, and actually all adults spending time with teens are ethically responsible for giving them feedback about their behavior – to provide an opportunity for them to reflect on a person’s perception of their behavior and his or her response to it.
The flip side of this is hearing the feedback given back, so yes, I heard when I was “snippy” and did have to apologize several times for losing patience – but it is all good and we are never too old to “engage” in relationships.
Teens really are blessed if they spend time with adult who will talk with them honestly and give them feedback, but the teen has to make the decision to hear the feedback and not just feel criticized and withdraw – which is the hard part of honest relationships. This group of girls was a new group, with four new members, and a wide age range – 12 to 17 – so there were several mini-lectures about judgment and being self-centered, which of course were translated into “she does not like me.”
I have to say it is hard to have conversations with teens who do not want to hear, but if they can hear that the feedback is about being perceived as the type of person they want to be, then there is hope. For example, if a teen says something negative about a person we pass or interact with in the community, I am likely to say, “whoa, that is really judgmental – are you sure you want to judge her without knowing more about her?” Or, maybe, “I hope you do not judge me solely on my appearance,” and if focused, I might add that people tend to shy away from people who are negative or judgmental, which is usually not what we want, which is to attract people.
Reactions range from silent sullen and angry to a brief nod and maybe “I am sorry,” but I think the process is the important part. Teens are going to be adults soon, and then feedback gets really rare except from friends, family, and bosses (which have consequences attached), so it is important to give the feedback and help teens hear it.
This post, The Role of Adult Mentors: If You See Something, Say Something, was originally published on Healthine.com by Nancy Brown, Ph.D..