Being a teenager is tough. During this transition phase from childhood to adulthood, complex social development is occurring during which teenagers figure out their place in the world and how they relate to it. This process often involves testing limits and even rule-breaking. A certain amount of independence-seeking behavior is healthy, but it can cross the line into dangerous territory quickly. Alcohol and drugs further complicate teenage life, as social influences can create behavioral pressures fraught with danger. Issues regarding body and self-image often come up during this time of dramatic change as well, causing more anxiety and awkwardness.
With all these challenges, a good counselor can make a huge impact on a teenager's life. You can be more than an academic advisor – as a counselor, you can guide your students through this difficult period to come out of the other end a happy and complete person ready to take on the world after graduation.
Here are a few tips for counselors about how better connect with your teenage clients and how to make the most positive impact possible on their lives.
You don't need to dive right into the heavy issues when meeting with your teenage clients. In fact, that can be a quick way to shut down communication. Start off on the right foot by making small talk about current events, modern music, etc. Establishing a rapport right off the bat sets you up in a good position to create a stronger bond so that you can tackle the big issues later on.
Don't Be Judgmental
One of the reasons that teenagers hesitate to share their personal challenges with authority figures and adults is the fear of judgment and, ultimately, of rejection. Assuage these natural social anxieties by making a conscious effort to reserve judgment. Listen empathetically, never casting aspersions that might cause your students to rethink talking to you about their struggles.
We know intrinsically whether someone is listening with a true reservation of judgment with a focus on helping or whether judgment is occurring.
Many students face the overwhelming social pressures that come with adolescence from parents and peers alike – you can provide some sanctuary from those pressures by creating a warm, welcoming, judgment-free office space where you can connect with your students honestly.
Focus on More than Academics
One popular misconception surrounding counselor's roles in schools is that their only function is to serve as an academic advisor – i.e., helping students prepare for college or "figuring" out their life post-high school. In reality, though, this is just one component of the counselor's larger objective to prepare students for life. That means helping them develop personally as well as academically. The iNLP Center certifies "life coaches" as part of their online program. A life coach focuses on achieving holistic success in life by planning personal and professional goals and how to execute them. A good life coach can make a dramatically positive impact on those who benefit from their guidance. Life coaching can even improve health outcomes in the long term through their support.
To be a good counselor, all you need is a sincere devotion to improving the lives of your teenage clients and an open heart and mind to develop the best strategies to help them reach their goals.