Topic B: From control to contracting
What is especially required in puberty is a caregiver behaviour that is a balance between containing (not being provoked, but being kind, matter of fact and very practical) and firm. You can make very clear to yourself as staff which demands can be negotiated, and which demands or house rules that are not for discussion. This is important to know when your limits are tested. Teenagers naturally test your limits, so to yourself they should be clear.
A useful rule is: always talk to the adult side of the teenager – no matter how childish you may think he or she behaves.
The roles “we are your caregivers and you are the child” dissolve, so it is necessary to find other ways of cooperating.
It can be a good idea to use “contracting”.
- For example: “You are growing up and you have become more competent. That means that you will have some duties in the house in exchange for certain rights and some pocket money. We want to make a contract with you stating what you have to do every day, how long you can stay out with friends, and what you get from us such as areas where we will let you decide yourself without arguing about your decisions. In that contract we should also talk about what we as staff group should do if you or we do not fulfil what we agreed on. So let’s start writing it together – do you have any suggestions for what we shall agree on – what is important for you?”
- This process can also be planned as a negotiating process and dialogue between the teenage group and the staff group. You can for example ask every Monday what wishes the teenagers have for activities during the week, and you can make some of them “co-staff” with some responsibility for the arrangements and the social climate of the activity.
The importance and attitudes of the peer group (friends, classmates) will often become more important than what you think as staff group. This should generally be accepted, so your role as a staff member should be “one who listens and talks” about the young person’s challenges in relations with peers. You don’t have to suggest solutions always, the dialogue itself and an accepting attitude can be of great help.
One young person remembered a caregiver like this: “I could always talk to him about anything, and he just listened to me and never blamed me“.