FCYU117 cover image See all stories from issue #117, Summer 2014

Therapists and Social Workers: Lessons You Can Use With Teens
Represent staff

Isolation vs. Connection

Discussion: 15 minutes
Go around the room and ask everyone to freewrite for two minutes on their most common response to something hard or painful (death of a loved one, loss of an important relationship, a big disappointment in school or work). Ask, “What do you do immediately to feel better or comfort yourself?” Then have them read out their answers and note their responses on the board or flip chart; emphasize that there are no wrong answers as long as they’re honest and heartfelt. If people do say “Use drugs or alcohol” or “Cut myself,” note it nonjudgmentally.

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Now group the responses into two categories – solitary comforts or reaching out for someone else. Ask everyone if they tend to stick to one way or if they cope in solitary ways and connecting ways. (For example, if someone says “I write in my journal,” ask if they ever call a friend and vice versa.) Have the group discuss the advantages of each way of handling emotional pain.

Reading and Discussion: 40 minutes
Now have the group read “Pushing Isaac Away”. Ask them what the author is sad about (her mom’s depression; her grandmother’s illness and death; past abuse by her mother’s boyfriend; going into care and feeling out of place). Then have them discuss how she comforts herself (cutting, drinking, smoking weed, talking to Isaac). Ask why she might have chosen the self-destructive, solitary things over talking to Isaac (she didn’t want to worry him; she’d gotten in the habit of cutting; she didn’t think too highly of herself). Ask them how she’s decreased her cutting (at the end of the story, she’s realized it’s how she lost Isaac and she’d rather have love; she doesn’t seek out people who hurt her; she expresses herself). Ask if anyone in the group has resisted the urge to isolate and hurt themselves and instead reached out, and if they’d like to share what helped them cope.

Has Your Relationship Gone Bad?

Discussion: 15 minutes
Ask the group to name some good things about being in a romantic relationship. Write their responses up on the board.

Then have the group freewrite about a relationship that they have either been in or been close to (a friend’s or a family member’s relationship) that seemed like it wasn’t going to last or was a bad relationship. Ask how they knew it was bad.

Write “Reasons” at the top of the board or flip paper. Ask them to share the reasons the relationships were bad and write down their responses. (The list may include partner hits them or pressures them for sex; they are always fighting with each other; they never listen to each other; they are not interested in each other anymore; they cheat and lie.)
Have everyone look at the list of reasons and decide which behaviors are violent. Circle these with a red marker. Next, have them decide which behaviors are disrespectful and might lead to violence. Circle these in green. There may be disagreement about what gets circled in green. For example, one teen may find jealousy flattering, and another may feel it’s controlling. Explain that people have different standards of how they want to be treated in a relationship and that it’s important to know what your own standards are.

Reading: 10 minutes
Have everyone read, aloud, “My Crazy Love Was Just Crazy,” by Anonymous.

Discussion: 30 minutes
Looking back at the beginning of the story, ask everyone to find and share examples of positive things about the author’s relationship with her boyfriend (he was publicly affectionate; focused on her; sensitive; gorgeous; loyal; equal; comforted her and let her comfort him). Add these to the list of good points to being in a romantic relationship and remind the group that we all seek, and deserve, these nice things from our partners.

Next, find the turning point in the relationship. Discuss where it “went bad” and what happened. Now, ask everyone to find examples of things happening in the relationship that show it is not a good one (her boyfriend pushed her for sex; yelled; hit; screamed at her in front of people; told her who she could hang out with; accused her of cheating; cheated). Add these to the “Reasons” list. Like before, circle in red those behaviors that are violent and circle in green those that aren’t yet violent but are still bad. Discuss.

Ask the group why the writer made the decision to leave the relationship. What was the final thing that made her break up? Have everyone look again at the “Reasons” list and write down for themselves which behaviors would make them leave a relationship. This will give teens the time to think about how they want to be treated in a romantic relationship. The group can share, or keep this list personal.

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