SURVIVING TEENS

Rev.Susan Brandt

Over the years I’ve become a part of Ottawa’s street scene. As a runaway, I spent most of my teen years on the streets addicted and in poverty, and now with OIM I do mobile street outreach into the parks, rooming houses, shelters, in our street health clinics, group meetings, and one on one friendships. I am well known to those who call the streets of Ottawa home and I find my street friends living outside in the park or picking lunch out of trash bins or living in crowded shelters for the homeless or abandoned buildings. I find them waiting in long soup kitchen lineups or hanging around with their gang, or the confused person talking to himself, yelling or mute in a world of his own imagination. Sometimes the world of illusion, even madness is preferable to spending painful moments experiencing reality and social isolation.
I offer my skill as a nurse, and addiction and trauma therapist but more importantly, I encourage and offer hope. Those I serve range in age from the cradle to the grave, and can be anything from teen moms, runaways, those involved in prostitution, pimps, gang members, survivors of trauma, and those addicted to prescription or street drugs, Lysol and Listerine. They are also those involved in crime, are psych deinstitutionalized, homeless, elderly, PLWA, and the dying.
Tonight I’d like to focus on teens in crisis and our response. I’ll start by saying that teens get a lot of bad press. It’s exciting for me to work with teens – to see their playfulness and spontaneity, to watch them develop a growing sense of responsibility. Their youthful idealism gives me hope and their energy can be contagious.
The teen years are a time of loss as the teen says goodbye to their childhood. The goal is to assist them to move onto adulthood and not to remain in adolescence. This is a time of moral and ethical value development, and formation of personal identity.
Teens need to be loved and valued, and taught skills to deal with life so that they can heave the tools necessary to make good decisions into adulthood. Yet young people are under such tremendous pressure these days. Their ability to cope greatly depends on their internal strengths and external resources. Young people reflect the attitudes of the adults in their life. They are inclined to conform rather than innovate. Teens have a peer-centred culture and they tend to build their identities around status symbols (as many adults do).
There is a great degree of teen disillusionment. A radio teen music show is called “No Future Now”. The likely prospect of ending up in unemployment lines seems like a nightmare. A profile of troubled youth in my opinion would be:

1) He/She lives for immediate gratification and postponement of rewards is unacceptable.
2) He/She exhibits learned behaviours. Attitudes and behaviour patterns are learned from others. This speaks to the lack of mature, consistent adult role models.
3) He/She is extremely self-centred. The universe revolves around him and he expects the world to contribute to his pleasure. How can we move him from, “I’m entitled,” to “I’m grateful”?
4) He/She finds comfort and a measure of fulfilment in delinquent behaviour. Delinquent acts bring few feelings of guilt or remorse.
5) He/She has a peer group which usually reinforces his behaviour. He is self-centred but usually not independent.
6) He/She has a weak conscience and os less affected by guilt.
7) He/She is suspicious of anyone representing the “establishment”. He is not anxious to develop relationships with those who uphold the standards against which he has rebelled.
8) He/She has learned to use people without becoming attached to them. People become tools in his quest for meaning.
9) He/She does not respect law, traditions, or people in authority positions.
10) He/She is capable of loyalties and selfish love. The basis for his friendships are difficult for the average person to understand but these are realistic relationships for troubled youth.
11) He/She has achieved proficiency in “conning”.
12) He/She believes that his behaviour is all right. From his perspective his motives are justified and his behaviour is reasonable.
13) He/She usually is not upset about his delinquent life except when he is caught.
14) He/She is not interested in changing and little thought is given on how to straighten out.
15) He/She is not mentally sick and he is able to be in touch with reality.
16) He/She strives to achieve recognition as an adult by doing “adult” things.
17) He/She is emotionally immature. Emotions run to extremes – elation to depression, submission to defiance.
18) He/She tends to be either loud and uninhibited or quiet and cunning.
19) He/She lives by his own set of rules and follows behavioural guidelines often set by a gang or peer group.
20) He/She accepts pleasure as his guiding life principal – self-centred materialistic and status oriented values scream “I want it and I want it now”.
21) He/She enjoys shocking people with extreme speech and behaviour. Refinement is resisted.
22) He/She is lonely. The gang or peer group does not meet his needs for love and self-worth.
23) He/She may use delinquent behaviour to get attention.

Part 2
Actually troubled youth are not much different today than they have always been. They live in “broken homes” in increasing numbers and still have the unfortunate opportunity to be raised by inconsistent, unloving, or unhealthy parents.
It is still possible to be born with mental or physical limitations. Sibling rivalry and troublesome relationships still exist. There will always be inadequate adult behaviour models. On the other hand, these obstacles and influences do not guarantee delinquency.
Most behavioural scientists agree there are three cultural influences affecting every young person – home, school, and peer group. Fifty years ago the church would have been named as well.
Children come into this world without any frame of reference. They have no inherent scale upon which to judge their worth – they must ascertain their value from the messages they receive. Parents largely determine the ratings children give themselves, at least until they enter school and begin to reevaluate themselves based upon feedback they get from teachers and peers. It is no wonder that children whose parents have their own emotional problems have trouble assessing their own personal worth.
There are a few basic essentials that human beings need in order to grow into competent adults. They need to feel powerful, that they can affect the world around them. They need identity, to know who they are and with whom they belong. They need acceptance from their parents and unconditional regard that allows them to experiment and make mistakes. They need consistency in order to believe that the world is predictable. They need to feel worthwhile. They need to be loved.
Parents who supply these essentials with God’s help are more likely to have well adjusted children. Parents who do not are likely to have children who suffer from low self-esteem, anxiety, lack of empathy, poor social relationships, drug or alcohol abuse, delinquency, suicide, or homicide. The simple truth is, more often than not, dysfunctional parents breed dysfunctional kids.
As I mentioned earlier teens live in a peer-based culture.

 Young people select friends who are more like them than not – sharing similar values and behaviours – don’t we all!
 Any group of teens expect its members to conform to explicit and implicit standards. Troubled youth will participate with others and conform quite naturally to antisocial and illegal behaviour.
 Most troubled teens who don’t join gangs will belong to other cliques.
 Troubled teens become highly dependent on each other especially for acceptance, status, and to hide feelings of loneliness.
 Male status is determined by physical prowess, aggressiveness, and fearlessness.
 Female status comes from being sexy, attractive, and clever.

I did a survey in three of my teen support groups and asked, “What concerns you the most?” It was a tie between suicide and depression. The likely prospect of ending up in unemployment lines seems like a nightmare. Some see selling drugs as an employment opportunity. Also many wonder if they’ll live long enough to die a natural death or if it will all blow up.
Teen disillusionment sets the stage for a message of hope.
Media is such a big influence. Television, films, youth consumer culture, rock videos, and music all offer a high powered and overwhelming diet of violence, dehumanized sex, racism, murder, rape, and greed. Unless teens are taught critical thinking skills, they will believe the lies they are fed.
Many youth I meet tell me stories of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, family violence, parent drug use, divorce, and low self-esteem. A 13-year old girl finds it hard to go to school because she takes care of her drug-using dad who has sole custody and spends all their money on cocaine.
We have a whole segment of society who have been orphaned even though their families live. Some run to the streets to save their own life, some are pushed out, and others leave okay homes believing that street life is more fun. Children are replacing old folks on our streets. But we know that the streets destroy people, especially youth. It’s a scavenger lifestyle.
It shouldn’t be surprising that so many are attracted to self medicating in order to avoid the feelings of these painful life experiences. Peer pressure is great and for many, to do drugs is normal and to not use is suspicious. In my teen groups I teach healthy choices and motivate teens to find their own positive way to break through the denial and negative influences around them, and act in their own best interest. Once they’ve made their choices they must take their consequences. I encourage them to practice an attitude of gratitude.
Teens have a lot to say and I try to really listen beyond the words, always offering hope and repeating affirmations of value and worth. A 16-year old boy is self-destructing with drugs. He tells me he was created out of the brutal rape of his mother who placed him at birth into the care of endless foster homes.
I tell them all that I care and I do. I praise and encourage their good decisions. I believe in their ability to make good decisions. I reassure teens that anger is a normal emotion. I help them differentiate between angry feelings and angry behaviour by teaching positive steps to learn how to handle feelings of anger by controlling how they act and by turning the energy that anger generates into something positive. I teach teens that life is not like a freeze framed photo but is more like a movie. We must challenge teens to develop attitudes that support a problem-solving approach to conflict.
It brings me joy to see teens in our groups improving their ability to solve problems and being able to take greater responsibility for themselves, to communicate more effectively, to express themselves more clearly, and listen more carefully.
One young girl said to me, “I always thought my life was in auto-pilot. Now I know I have choices – now I have hope.”
Reality shows us that life can be wonderful and painful. By developing life skills, spiritual values, and parameters that offer choices and consequences, teens will be better able to face the pain which will build character in them so that they can fully appreciate the wonder of life.

Over the years I’ve become a part of Ottawa’s street scene. As a runaway, I spent most of my teen years on the streets addicted and in poverty, and now with OIM I do mobile street outreach into the parks, rooming houses, shelters, in our street health clinics, group meetings, and one on one friendships. I am well known to those who call the streets of Ottawa home and I find my street friends living outside in the park or picking lunch out of trash bins or living in crowded shelters for the homeless or abandoned buildings. I find them waiting in long soup kitchen lineups or hanging around with their gang, or the confused person talking to himself, yelling or mute in a world of his own imagination. Sometimes the world of illusion, even madness is preferable to spending painful moments experiencing reality and social isolation.
I offer my skill as a nurse, and addiction and trauma therapist but more importantly, I encourage and offer hope. Those I serve range in age from the cradle to the grave, and can be anything from teen moms, runaways, those involved in prostitution, pimps, gang members, survivors of trauma, and those addicted to prescription or street drugs, Lysol and Listerine. They are also those involved in crime, are psych deistitutionalized, homeless, elderly, PLWA, and the dying.
Tonight I’d like to focus on teens in crisis and our response. I’ll start by saying that teens get a lot of bad press. It’s exciting for me to work with teens – to see their playfulness and spontaneity, to watch them develop a growing sense of responsibility. Their youthful idealism gives me hope and their energy can be contagious.
The teen years are a time of loss as the teen says goodbye to their childhood. The goal is to assist them to move onto adulthood and not to remain in adolescence. This is a time of moral and ethical value development, and formation of personal identity.
Teens need to be loved and valued, and taught skills to deal with life so that they can heave the tools necessary to make good decisions into adulthood. Yet young people are under such tremendous pressure these days. Their ability to cope greatly depends on their internal strengths and external resources. Young people reflect the attitudes of the adults in their life. They are inclined to conform rather than innovate. Teens have a peer-centred culture and they tend to build their identities around status symbols (as many adults do).
There is a great degree of teen disillusionment. A radio teen music show is called “No Future Now”. The likely prospect of ending up in unemployment lines seems like a nightmare. A profile of troubled youth in my opinion would be:

1) He/She lives for immediate gratification and postponement of rewards is unacceptable.
2) He/She exhibits learned behaviours. Attitudes and behaviour patterns are learned from others. This speaks to the lack of mature, consistent adult role models.
3) He/She is extremely self-centred. The universe revolves around him and he expects the world to contribute to his pleasure. How can we move him from, “I’m entitled,” to “I’m grateful”?
4) He/She finds comfort and a measure of fulfilment in delinquent behaviour. Delinquent acts bring few feelings of guilt or remorse.
5) He/She has a peer group which usually reinforces his behaviour. He is self-centred but usually not independent.
6) He/She has a weak conscience and os less affected by guilt.
7) He/She is suspicious of anyone representing the “establishment”. He is not anxious to develop relationships with those who uphold the standards against which he has rebelled.
8) He/She has learned to use people without becoming attached to them. People become tools in his quest for meaning.
9) He/She does not respect law, traditions, or people in authority positions.
10) He/She is capable of loyalties and selfish love. The basis for his friendships are difficult for the average person to understand but these are realistic relationships for troubled youth.
11) He/She has achieved proficiency in “conning”.
12) He/She believes that his behaviour is all right. From his perspective his motives are justified and his behaviour is reasonable.
13) He/She usually is not upset about his delinquent life except when he is caught.
14) He/She is not interested in changing and little thought is given on how to straighten out.
15) He/She is not mentally sick and he is able to be in touch with reality.
16) He/She strives to achieve recognition as an adult by doing “adult” things.
17) He/She is emotionally immature. Emotions run to extremes – elation to depression, submission to defiance.
18) He/She tends to be either loud and uninhibited or quiet and cunning.
19) He/She lives by his own set of rules and follows behavioural guidelines often set by a gang or peer group.
20) He/She accepts pleasure as his guiding life principal – self-centred materialistic and status oriented values scream “I want it and I want it now”.
21) He/She enjoys shocking people with extreme speech and behaviour. Refinement is resisted.
22) He/She is lonely. The gang or peer group does not meet his needs for love and self-worth.
23) He/She may use delinquent behaviour to get attention.

Part3
As I mentioned earlier teens live in a peer-based culture.

 Young people select friends who are more like them than not – sharing similar values and behaviours – don’t we all!
 Any group of teens expect its members to conform to explicit and implicit standards. Troubled youth will participate with others and conform quite naturally to antisocial and illegal behaviour.
 Most troubled teens who don’t join gangs will belong to other cliques.
 Troubled teens become highly dependent on each other especially for acceptance, status, and to hide feelings of loneliness.
 Male status is determined by physical prowess, aggressiveness, and fearlessness.
 Female status comes from being sexy, attractive, and clever.

I did a survey in three of my teen support groups and asked, “What concerns you the most?” It was a tie between suicide and depression. The likely prospect of ending up in unemployment lines seems like a nightmare. Some see selling drugs as an employment opportunity. Also many wonder if they’ll live long enough to die a natural death or if it will all blow up.
Teen disillusionment sets the stage for a message of hope.
Media is such a big influence. Television, films, youth consumer culture, rock videos, and music all offer a high powered and overwhelming diet of violence, dehumanized sex, racism, murder, rape, and greed. Unless teens are taught critical thinking skills, they will believe the lies they are fed.
Many youth I meet tell me stories of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, family violence, parent drug use, divorce, and low self-esteem. A 13-year old girl finds it hard to go to school because she takes care of her drug-using dad who has sole custody and spends all their money on cocaine.
We have a whole segment of society who have been orphaned even though their families live. Some run to the streets to save their own life, some are pushed out, and others leave okay homes believing that street life is more fun. Children are replacing old folks on our streets. But we know that the streets destroy people, especially youth. It’s a scavenger lifestyle.
It shouldn’t be surprising that so many are attracted to self medicating in order to avoid the feelings of these painful life experiences. Peer pressure is great and for many, to do drugs is normal and to not use is suspicious. In my teen groups I teach healthy choices and motivate teens to find their own positive way to break through the denial and negative influences around them, and act in their own best interest. Once they’ve made their choices they must take their consequences. I encourage them to practice an attitude of gratitude.
Teens have a lot to say and I try to really listen beyond the words, always offering hope and repeating affirmations of value and worth. A 16-year old boy is self-destructing with drugs. He tells me he was created out of the brutal rape of his mother who placed him at birth into the care of endless foster homes.
I tell them all that I care and I do. I praise and encourage their good decisions. I believe in their ability to make good decisions. I reassure teens that anger is a normal emotion. I help them differentiate between angry feelings and angry behaviour by teaching positive steps to learn how to handle feelings of anger by controlling how they act and by turning the energy that anger generates into something positive. I teach teens that life is not like a freeze framed photo but is more like a movie. We must challenge teens to develop attitudes that support a problem-solving approach to conflict.
It brings me joy to see teens in our groups improving their ability to solve problems and being able to take greater responsibility for themselves, to communicate more effectively, to express themselves more clearly, and listen more carefully.
One young girl said to me, “I always thought my life was in auto-pilot. Now I know I have choices – now I have hope.”
Reality shows us that life can be wonderful and painful. By developing life skills, spiritual values, and parameters that offer choices and consequences, teens will be better able to face the pain which will build character in them so that they can fully appreciate the wonder of life.