Our words can be reinforced or undermined by our body language. It may be particularly important to consider the messages our bodies communicate when we serve marginalized youth because they have learned to be hyper vigilant to others’ judgments and intentions.
Those of us who serve youth are driven by a mission to make a difference. We often find ourselves rejuvenated by the youthful exuberance, hope, and inspiration that surround us. We serve with a goal of treating others with absolute respect and unconditional love, but sometimes have trouble accessing our capacity to care deeply because the seemingly endless pain we see has depleted our energy. Our challenge over time is to learn how to be able to “hold” others’ pain in a way that supports them, without “owning” it in a way that depletes us.
When we choose to work with youth, we expect to have some days that may be stressful. Stress is not necessarily a bad thing. Stress activates us and sometimes brings out our best. Burnout, on the other hand, saps us of energy and leaves us wondering why we do this. It leaves us asking whether our capacity to love unconditionally has been compromised.
There are key steps we can all take to avert burnout:
First, we must have appropriate boundaries both to serve young people in a way that assures they remain in control of their lives AND to protect us emotionally. Part of this is also about understanding when their behavior is about us, and when it is not. When we are trauma-informed, we know both how to serve youth respectfully and effectively, and to intuitively understand when their behaviors do not reflect on us.
Second, we must know that what we do matters. We are positioned to produce effective interactions when we view youth through a positive lens, removing shame or stigma from our interactions. We learn that what we do makes a difference when our interactions are effective. We produce effective interactions when we have the skills to facilitate youth to arrive at their own wise decisions. We must also know that we will not always see the fruits of the seeds we plant, but that planting them was indeed meaningful.
Third, we must be as committed to self-care as we are to teaching others to care for themselves.
We cannot stem burnout as individuals, but when we support each other, we remain energized collectively. When we mentor our younger colleagues appropriately, they can be prepared to serve over a lifetime – while maintaining both their sense of self and their capacity to feel deeply.
Reaching Teens hopes to help youth serving professionals learn how to remain committed to youth over long productive careers. Click here to learn how to navigate Reaching Teens in a way that will address each of the major points described above.