I have worked in group care for troubled
adolescents for quite a while now. And I still struggle with how
to respond to young people living on the same campus - or even in the
same program - falling in love with one another and wanting to be
expressive in their loving one another. By that I mean 'wanting to spend
all their time together, holding hands, kissing, etc.'.
So, I am looking for some idea from other
people who have had the same experience. How do you deal with it?
We structure the teens days and work out a schedule with the teens to meet. It seems to work and we will adjust the times or days if something comes up that they would like to see or do.
Thanks for your enquiry. Like many, such as
yourself, I have been in workplace situations where this type of
scenario has occurred.
First of all, I always feel it is important to step back to gain insight into the perspective/worldview of that child/youth, and see it through their eyes. It will help us come to a place of non-judgement and openness while we relate with young people, as well as recognize their unique behaviours/responses to circumstance and where they are coming from; subsequently, youth will feel such an attitude coming from us and be more apt to dialogue about whatever is transpiring. Our work is relational. So first come from a place dialoging about their relationships, feelings, etc. and understanding of what that may be like for them.
In this situation, we could also reflect on our own past when we were young... i.e. what it was like to be "in love" at that age, etc. We could use it as a point of reference in our own mind to increase our understanding of what they are feeling, etc, and/or use it as an experiential example when relating to this issue. You can also use this opportunity to talk about healthy relationships/boundaries. This conversation can also entail spending time away from their partner with other peers, friends, etc and engaging social activities. Find out what their interests are outside of being together and support such activities. Is it sports, dance, board games, etc ? Any healthy pro-social activity they can engage with one or more people, aside from their partner, will also foster/enhance their social development and connectedness with others.
Secondly, are there policies in place at your workplace that address personal space boundaries ? It could be a position around which to dialogue. I have used guidelines within the living environment/space to engage youth in problem solving. Such conversations could look like:
As you know, touching, kissing, etc. is part of our boundary guidelines..... (however, you want to fittingly word it) ...and was wondering what ideas we could come up with....
One of the ideas I came up with that resonated with
youth (as at one time our population was having many boundary issues)
was the "sideway hug". It was a way to show affection that would both
satisfy the guidelines while enabling people to still show caring
I am not sure what you have tried, etc but hope some of these thoughts are useful.
85% of all youth residential relationships are between females and males. Prohibiting the co-ed dynamic would result in a similar decrease of this occurrence. Otherwise education is key, about STIs, pregnancy, and the concept of love itself. Then of course, educate on the social etiquette of public affection.
Everyone has a right to express themselves how they see fit. However in some spaces (most that are supported and supervised by adults) there are boundaries.
I believe that it is up to us (youth workers) to teach the youth about these as Mary Anne mentioned. Beating around the bush isn't necessary just straight to it. Having healthy relationships and boundaries conversations are also excellent to have prior.
Although on the flip side if you got the teenage love I don't think anything can really stop you ..lol