As teenagers develop, they learn about themselves and come to understandings about their personality, sexuality and general manner of being in the world.
Sometimes these personal discoveries are very “Aha!” and other times they occur gradually.
In most cases, young people want to talk to trusted friends and adults who can help them process their self-awareness.
As adults, it’s important to understand that there are right and wrong ways to discuss new ideas with young people — or anyone.
The context for the following “right ways to respond” is not defined, but I encourage you to think about a young person you know and a situation in which he or she is telling you something about himself or herself in confidence.
Believe him or her. Nothing will derail a conversation and sever trust faster than you discrediting his or her thoughts. Instead, ask questions.
Don’t freak out. Your reaction will determine much of the way a young person views his or her own situation and whether he or she will continue to be open about the issue.
Don’t apply pressure. Let the young person say what he or she needs to say, and don’t interject your own value system or viewpoints into the conversation unless they are pertinent and kind.
Trust yourself and your relationship with the young person. Know that there likely will be a time and place for instruction on your part, but that this initial moment is not that time. Trust that he or she has learned from you and absorbed your messages over the length of your relationship.
Express love, especially verbally. Whether you agree with whatever he or she is telling you, do not let the conversation pass without letting your young person know how much you care. Progress and understanding will only happen from a place of love.
Keep your young person’s confidences. If you want to be able to support him or her during the difficult growing-up journey, you have to respect your young person and maintain a strict code of confidence, unless he or she tells you about self-harm or abuse by another person. In those cases, please reach out to the appropriate agencies in our community.
It is important for adults, as mentors and role models, to be available for tough conversations and revelations from the young people in their lives.
When entered into with gentleness and love, those tough conversations can propel your young person toward self-acceptance and self-love.
Laura Ferguson is a program manager at Youth Resources of Southwestern Indiana. Since 1987, Youth Resources has engaged more than 146,000 youths in leadership development and community service through its evidence-based, youth-led TEENPOWER, Teen Advisory Council, Teen Court and Make A Difference Grant Programs. For more information, call 812-421-0030 or visit www.youth-resources.org.