A recent Star Tribune article tells us that four out of five teens surveyed had no meaningful relationships with adults outside their immediate families. This is concerning, because one thing we know that helps teens grow up to be healthy and happy is connecting with at least one positive adult.
In years past, this happened more naturally because teens were often engaged in the adult world through work, apprenticeships, etc. Today, teens spend most of their time with other teens. A few lucky teens may have a coach or a neighbor who “clicks” with them and provides mentorship, but many teens go without these important adult guides. Teens are at an age where it’s their developmental task to find their place in the world, and part of that process is connecting with adults outside of their families.
Sometimes teens seem disinterested in the world of adults. My experience, however, is that teens are often really craving adult attention, especially if it isn’t based on enforcing rules and discipline. One of the great things about connecting with a teen that isn’t your own child is that it isn’t your job to provide discipline. You get to be the supportive, caring, nonjudgmental adult.
As parents, we also need to encourage our teens to reach out to other positive adults. When my daughter turned 13, we asked those important adults in her life to write her a letter, saying whatever they wanted to communicate on the occasion of her official entry into adolescence. We made a scrapbook of all of those supportive notes and gave it to her as a birthday gift. Knowing that the teen years can be tough, and that she might not always want to come to her parents for help, we wanted her to have a reminder that she has many adults in her corner, rooting for her.
At TAMS, one way we work to provide mentorship to teens is through our peer education program. Here is a video describing that experience.
My experience working with teens is that they enrich my life as much as I could hope to enrich theirs. It’s always worth it to take the risk and reach out to young people. As Garrison Keillor said: “Nothing you do for children is ever wasted. They seem not to notice us, hovering, averting our eyes, and they seldom offer thanks, but what we do for them is never wasted.”
Emily Scribner-O’Pray is the Community Services Supervisor at Teenage Medical Service. Read more about Emily.