Natasha Lane persevered through a year of service with a caseload of 40 teens and their families. She shares her hard-earned youth service tips.
Everyone fears turning into their parents, right? Yet, it seems to happen to all of us at one point or another. There’s that horrible day when we open our mouths to speak and our mother (or father!) comes out and the bitter taste of self disgust coats our tongues.
Yeah, it’s not the best taste, but it’s one I became much too familiar with during my year of service with the AmeriCorps Choice Program.
I was stationed at Benjamin Franklin High School in south Baltimore City as a Community Leadership Fellow. Most of my days were spent at the high school working with teenagers described as “at-risk youth.” Many of these youth had academic struggles, behavioral issues, came from dysfunctional households, or were a hormone-charged mixture of the three.
And 40 of these youth (give or take a few, at any given moment) were my and my team’s responsibility. Throughout the year, my relationship with each teen changed.
Sometimes, I was their best friend, their older sibling, their parent, or pseudo-counselor. Other times, I was their worst enemy, and they never seemed to hesitate to let me know it.
The year was difficult, to say the least, yet also rewarding in an odd way. I had moments of defeat, but I motivated myself to persevere. Here are some youth service tips that helped me through and could help you, too:
1. Know when to step away.
Yelling never got anyone anywhere.
You will not be able to “win” every conversation with a youth. Remember, most youth are in a hectic transitional phase where they’re an adult in certain ways but still young in others. This experience is intensified for at-risk-youth who may be supporting their families in multiple facets. For your sanity, as well as theirs, know when to step away. If you can avoid turning a conversation into an argument, do it! Yelling never got anyone anywhere.
2. Rely on your team.
Let them rely on you, too.
There is only one you and likely several dozen youth under your care. Basically, the numbers are not in your favor. Each youth is an individual with individual needs, which means your to-do list is going to be endless unless you have help. Never be afraid to call on your team! Carrying an entire workload causes burnout. Splitting that workload among your coworkers eases the burden and keeps everyone happy. It’s easy to try to be a superhero, to try and do it all on your own. However, achieving this goal is impossible. Rely on your team, and let them rely on you.
3. Give yourself some TLC.
That stands for tender, love, and care.
No, it does not mean you care more because you work on your days off. What it means is you don’t know how to relax.
A key to surviving any service-sector position is separating work life from your life. When you’re at work, your mind should be focused there, too. When you’re not at your job, you shouldn’t be thinking about it. Instead, you should be recuperating and recovering from the mental, emotional, and—in some cases—physical stress you’ve endured.
How do you do that? With some self TLC, of course—tender, love, and care.
4. Don’t take it personally.
It likely has nothing to do with you.
If there was one mantra I used daily while working with AmeriCorps, it was this one.
Don’t take it personally.
Yes, the youth may be screaming at you, but they’re really angry with are their parents. Perhaps, you’re just a convenient substitute.
Yes, the youth may be ignoring you and your attempts at conversations. However, what they’re really trying to avoid is the feeling of defeat or frustration.
Of course, you should still hold them accountable for their actions (if they skip class and get detention, that’s fair) but don’t take their behavior personally! It likely has nothing to do with you.
5. Feel your feels.
If working with youth was easy, everyone would do it.
No one is always perfectly composed. It would be great if we could keep smiling under pressure, but there’s a limit.
After two months with AmeriCorps, I developed a habit of gripping the steering wheel and screaming at the top of my lungs while driving home. Initially, I felt horrible doing this. Wasn’t I supposed to handle anything thrown at me?
The answer: no.
What I was doing was feeling my feels. If I didn’t feel them on the way home from work, they may have come out another way or at another time that wasn’t opportune. The truth is what I was doing was much healthier than bottling my emotions and pretending everything was fine.
Because it wasn’t, and that’s okay. If working with youth was easy, everyone would do it.
The fact you put yourself in the line of fire is proof enough.
You can do this.
GlobalGiving is celebrating Youth Week from Aug. 6-12 to raise funds for youth services organizations engaged in vital work.
Featured Photo: Activating Empathy through Play by Playworks