Working Effectively With Teens During COVID: Using FEEDBACK
Julie Baron~ Therapist and Mom of 2 Teens
Learning and thus any change, is a dynamic process. If ever there has been a time when we are all learning and changing, it’s now! Online schooling, therapy, and even sports have challenged all of us to learn many new things. Thank goodness we have the technology to remain connected AND the lack of in person dynamics leaves us without some critical inputs to help guide our course. We believe, in our What Works With Teens philosophy, that feedback is a valuable and necessary tool for guiding teens toward their goals. Now more than ever, if we are going to keep our relationships with teens strong as we work with them, we need to be open to their experience and hear from them what is working and what needs adjusting. What’s in it for you? The more teens feel a part of the process, the more they will engage and help us do our jobs well. There are many ways to seek and utilize feedback from teens:
Lay the Groundwork. Before you ever ask for feedback from teens, they need to believe that what you are seeking will be valued and utilized. At the outset, let them know you will be asking for their feedback along the way, that you value their voice, and explain how you will and will not use their input. Be willing to genuinely hear them and make adjustments based on their perspectives. Never (I rarely use all or nothing language) use the feedback they offer against them or to make them feel uncomfortable or embarrassed or they will never offer it again.
Use Many Different Formats. There are lots of ways feedback can be elicited and offered. Use it before a task, lesson, practice or intervention, to learn what their expectations, hopes, or concerns may be, and after, to learn about their actual experience; what they liked and what they may like to change moving forward. Offer opportunities for feedback during the process, by outlining ways they can interject appropriately and by checking in throughout. Technology offers ways to seek feedback through video and voice, as well as chat boxes, polls, or using a thumbs up or down button (those are there for a reason). Let teens know other ways you are willing to be available by video, phone, text or email (whatever is appropriate to the boundaries of your work with them) and encourage their communications.
Use It! The best way to encourage feedback from teens is to ensure they know that you are making use of their suggestions, critiques, and ideas. When we let them know we hear them and then do what they are asking or suggesting, we validate their truth and feelings. Adjusting our approach demonstrates our value in their words and communicates respect, which will likely be reciprocated. Considering teens’ input and making visible use of it will also build their greater investment in the learning and growth process.
Reinforce. This starts with replying to their messages in a timely manner. There have been times when I asked teens if they told a helping adult or teacher how they felt or what difficulty they were having, only to be told, “Yea but they never replied.” Be sure to reinforce their efforts to communicate, however unskilled, by responding thoughtfully and thanking them, whether or not you agree. If you cannot feasibly implement their specific suggestions, explain what the barriers may be and adjust whatever possible. Sharing useful feedback you receive with the larger group (identifying the source only with their permission or anonymously) will reinforce your appreciation and invite further feedback. The more concretely examples can be shared and utilized, the more likely others will be to openly offer their feedback. The more we know and understand what’s working and what is not, the better we can be in our work with teens.