I work with teenagers in a therapeutic setting. I don’t know if you remember what it was like to be a teenager, but you can probably imagine that some of the kids I work with aren’t exactly eager to share about themselves to a group of other teenagers. Have you ever sat down with a group of 14 year-olds and asked, “What do you think about your family?” You might not get much of a response.

Teenagers are going through a lot, but the way I see it, it breaks down into three big issues – school, family, and self. Unpacking these can be tricky. But when kids internalize their feelings about these big issues – when they don’t have anyone to talk to about them – they still have to deal with them. So, we often see that kids’ behaviors become a reflection of their feelings. If we can give kids a voice to share about how they feel about school, their family, or themselves, then we’re better able to process through these thoughts and avoid negative behavior.

So, if you can’t ask a group of kids to verbalize their feelings, what can you do? I recently wrote out some questions onto notecards and placed them on a table. I asked the kids to choose a card and write their responses to the questions on the back side of the card. I grouped the topics into those three main categories – school, family, self.

Writing their answers to these cards got the kids thinking. Since they didn’t have the pressure of being put on the spot to come up with an answer in front of everyone, they were much more likely to reflect on the question and write down a thoughtful answer. I asked them all to share one answer, if they wanted to, and most did. I noticed that especially the girls wanted to share their answers – it seemed as though they liked the idea of opening up but struggled to find an appropriate way to do it.

 I think you could do this activity at the beginning of work with kids, as a sort of icebreaker, or towards the middle of your time with them, once they’ve gotten familiar with each other and with you. I think it really helped give a voice to the kids and created an opportunity for them to think about those areas that they clearly have a lot of thoughts about, but sometimes struggle to verbalize.

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