Much goes on at Compass that is not on the calendar or visible to others outside of our community. As with school, work, and family life, socializing and being with others for several hours at a stretch inevitably results in occasional misunderstanding, blunders, and wounds. The luxury of being at Compass is that we take time to repair, understand, and learn about ourselves through this process. The advisor-advisee relationships are one part of this, but not all.
We have hour-long blocks embedded into our schedules for each of our advisees. Sometimes the meetings are no longer than 10 minutes spent trying to get some feedback on how things are going while a young teen spins madly in one of the office chairs and yawns widely throughout. He’s not yawing to be rude – in fact he’s barely aware of what his body is conveying – he’s just not engaged at the moment. The very next day this same teen will approach me asking to discuss social dynamics in the ‘Minecraft room.’ We will spend the next hour exploring this, first one-on-one, and then bringing another teen into the conversation. In this exchange, we listen, we empathize, we suggest. We remind them that they do not need to replicate sibling dynamics with the other teens at Compass. We ask them to remove their headphones and really listen to each other when they’re gaming; we tell them that no one can read their minds and they need to say what’s going on inside them. All of these conversations happen live and in moments of upset – sometimes tears.
In the last week alone, André and I have spent collectively approximately three hours with one teen who is exploring how authority plays out in his life. As we talk, I tell him honestly how his actions in class affect me personally. Together we explore which takes precedence in certain moments: responding with logic or listening to the feelings behind the words? At what point do we allow ourselves to submit to another’s authority and when is following our own wishes more appropriate? What does it mean to live in community with others?
Of course many of these conversations do take place within the context of the advisor meetings. We discuss when it’s appropriate – and safe – to share certain things about ourselves. Will other teens be capable of receiving highly charged personal information? Or will sharing the information result in more re-wounding? We comment on how the teens’ behavior affects us personally and how others are likely feeling similarly in response to the same actions. It helps a lot that André and I also teach classes. We see how teens are in our classes and occasionally bring our observations into our scheduled meetings. Perhaps one teen is not leaving enough space for others to speak, while another is working to overcome her shyness and be more of a presence in classes and in her life more generally.
These lessons are a vital part of being an adolescent. They enable young people to emerge into adulthood with a better sense of who they are. Sometimes I even tell perplexed teens that wading through this swampy early adolescent confusion is their job right now; they are right on track!
In our literature and in initial family meetings we often talk about how having more choices enables teens to learn about themselves: what choices do they make when they have the space and time to make their own choices? The type of self-knowledge I’m writing about in this post is more about learning what triggers us and how to handle it; figuring out how to communicate effectively; and learning to uncover our more authentic selves. On a practicality scale, this rates pretty high. Presenting as authentic and invested in the emotional health of others helps people get jobs, keep those jobs, enter into healthy intimate relationships with others, and maintain those relationships.
Teens are famously experimental. Some of this experimentation includes doing or saying things that cause reactions – both positive and negative – in those around us. In our conversations with the teens here, we talk about how we’re all human and how we all make mistakes. It’s what we do in the moment after that matters.