A focus of our staff training is helping counselors learn to connect with kids, empathize with them, and give them positive, supportive guidance.
A powerful exercise we do is to ask our staff (19-24 year olds) to reflect on what they remember as being their most difficult time growing up. This summer, as has been the trend for many years, the majority of staff listed the teen years (ages 13-18) as their most challenging.
We also asked them if they had an adult in their life (parent, coach, teacher, mentor, camp counselor) who helped them through their difficult period.
Next, they wrote down what adults in their life did and said that helped them through their difficult teen years.
This summer’s camp counselors had a lot of wisdom to share. Their reflections translate into helpful advice for any of us who parent or work with teens.
7 Ways to Help Kids Through Their Teen Years
Be there, be present
“Made me feel like I wasn’t alone in my experiences.”
“Took me under their wing, let me talk out my feelings, found ways to include me, helped me find ways to be myself.”
“Gave me a safe space to be open.”
“Talked with me about my issues honestly.”
Listen, validate feelings and emotions
“Let me talk about how I was feeling.”
“Offered a listening ear and were compassionate about all I had to say.”
“Talked about feelings, not always solutions, listened and understood.”
“Just talked to me.”
Make them feel valued and special
“Reminded me of my own uniqueness/awesomeness.”
“Made me feel valued. Helped me recognize my own strengths.”
“Told me something they loved about me when they saw me feel down.”
“Told me I was valued.”
“Gave me compliments.”
“Made sure I knew my best was always good enough.”
“Showed me that real friends will like me for who I am.”
Reassure them and normalized their feelings
“Said, ‘It is normal and everyone needs to feel this to grow into an adult.'”
“Ensured that it was a tough age, they experienced it too, and it would pass.”
“Made me realize that everyone felt the same way.”
“Told me there was no reason to worry.”
“Helped me realize things get better.”
Express love for them
“Reminded me that I was loved.”
“Loved & accepted me.”
Encourage them and build up their confidence
“She’s my biggest cheerleader.”
“Built up my confidence bit by bit.”
“Never gave up on me.”
Provide a positive example
“Having role models that were confident in who they are helped my self-esteem and confidence.”
“Role modeled confidence and self love.”
If we want to have a positive influence on the teens in our life, it will come from taking the time to be present with them, listening,
encouraging, and reassuring them.
It’s also important that we point out to them the strengths that they temporarily may have trouble seeing in themselves so that they know how loved and valued they are.
The teen years can be rough, but caring adults can help them through.