Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Teens Drop In...and Out

At the battered women's shelter where I volunteer, most teens come to group when they're living at the shelter or while their moms are attending one of the women's groups. Then I never see them again.

For most of the past two and a half years, tho, I've had two beautiful, bright girls and one sweet,helpful boy (all now teens or almost teens) who continue to come to kids' group. They've come long enough so we've developed a bond, tenuous as it seems sometimes.

They come to group for a while, drop out from boredom or sport activities or periods of withdrawl. How they get back is interesting. Sometimes they tell me they "just felt like coming in." Sometimes they come in looking awful and a younger sibling may tell me why they're upset before they do. Other times they say their mom "made" them come in because they're not doing well at school and/or at home.

Most kids who have experienced domestic or dating violence act like all teens. They gripe about homework, fool around, text, call their friends, play games on their ipods or phones. They talk with me and help with the younger kids, but share problems only when they really need to.

And that's enough. Their emotional support comes mainly from their peers, like most teens.

But because they're more at risk for dating or domestic violence now or in the future, I nourish these relationships, even when they seem weak. That nourishment might be only a smile or a hug when they show up. Sometimes they want help with homework or to "sit in" a group and draw. Sometimes they ask to talk to me in my private space.

There's no payback in "pushing" teens to talk or share. They've seen enough pushing, controlling, name it. I let them lead me.

I also hang onto the ribbon of respect and affection that runs between them and me, trying to keep it intact so that if they run into problems that threaten their well-being, I'll be there. And they'll drop in. Again.

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