Episodes of violence and trauma in young people’s communities, especially those that arise from a place of systemic inequality, prejudice and racism, impact young people’s lives in a variety of ways. Mentors are uniquely positioned to help young people process these experiences by providing a space to express their emotions, ask for help, and channel uncertain feelings into positive, constructive action. However, mentors may need strategies for supporting these discussions and actions as well as support for being allies to young people trying to make sense of their feelings. For example, in the aftermath of tragic incidents of racial profiling and violence resulting from police actions, young people may feel unsafe, angry, frustrated, sad, and powerless. This guide was developed to help mentors build relationships with young people that affirm their experiences and cultivate a sense of safety after incidents of violence or traumatic events occur. Additionally, we encourage mentors to convene with their networks and affiliated organizations to discuss these recommendations and apply them to the unique experiences of the communities and young people they serve, and we emphasize the importance of collaboration between youth-serving groups and organizations to facilitate affirming, healing and supportive conversations with young people about violence they have experienced or encountered, and their reactions to these tragic events.
PREPARE: CONTEXT AND ROLES
Define your role. Consider what it means to be an ally to young people as they navigate these challenges. Whether or not you and your mentee have similar backgrounds or experiences, your role is to respect and affirm their experiences, help them process their feelings, and consider what actions they can take that will support them and their communities. SUPPORTING YOUNG PEOPLE IN THE WAKE OF VIOLENCE AND TRAUMA SUPPORTING YOUNG PEOPLE IN THE WAKE OF VIOLENCE AND TRAUMA 2
Do your homework. Take time to learn about the factors that impact the overall wellness of the young people you mentor and their communities, including acute losses or traumatic events, as well as more chronic and pervasive challenges like food injustice and homelessness. Consider how your mentee might perceive these issues and what his/ her perspective might be. Talk with other adults and seek professional perspectives on how these issues might impact your mentee, what a supportive conversation with your mentee about these topics might look like, and what kind of additional supports are available to your mentee.
Know yourself. It is important to consider that conversations about race, privilege, and violence may be more harmful than beneficial to young people if you are not able to effectively affirm, attend to, and support young people in expressing their feelings. Often, mentors find these conversations personally challenging. It is important to explore your own biases, emotional triggers, and limitations before entering into a conversation with a young person about a challenging topic. Creating a plan to manage your feelings so you can effectively support your mentee is a key step, and should be part of an ongoing reflection process for mentors.
Lots of us can sing or hum a line or two from the theme song to the classic 80’s sitcom Cheers. It was set in a Boston bar that was a second home to the regulars because it was a place “where everybody knows your name.”
The world spins faster now on its worldwide internet axis than it did in the 80’s. We “know” hundreds or thousands of more people through social media than the average person knew in the pre-social-media 80’s. But since we and our purely social-media friends probably wouldn’t recognize each other if we bumped into each other on the sidewalk, we don’t really know them.
In fact, internet time is taking time away from in-person relationships to the point that we actually know fewer people in the flesh than the average 30-something-year-old knew back when Cheers was the number-one sitcom.
Yet what hasn’t changed a bit is that we all still long to be known. We want to be smiled at, called by name, and engage in real conversation. We’ll take a real handshake or hug over an emoji handshake or hug any day.
The Benefits of Being Able to Know How to Start a Great Conversation
All relationships begin with Hello, progress to a conversation, and from there either end or blossom into future conversations and flow into whatever relationship they’re meant to become.
People who know how to start great conversations, and continue them, are valued because they draw people, and the opportunities those people offer, to themselves, and can also connect the many people they know and hatch new relationships for others.
There are some basics to learn and become comfortable with in regards to starting great conversations. But once you know the basics, even if you’re an introvert like me, knowing how to start a great conversation is little more than knowing a formula with blanks to fill in.
And, no, making this into a formula makes it no less authentic. It makes it predictable. And what we can predict, we can better handle. And when we can better handle things, we stop worrying about them and start enjoying them, and then it’s completely authentic.
It’s that simple, and that wonderful. Being able to make a real connection and being the cool breeze in the hot mess of someone’s day is a gift everyone accepts with gratitude and even a little awe.
So how do you become someone who knows how to start a great conversation? All of Some of my best tips are below! I can’t give them all to you at once. I don’t want you to leave and not come back.
The Number 1 Thing Great Conversationalists Do
This might seem counterintuitive — a lot of etiquette rules are — but all great conversationalists have one overriding trait in common: they don’t talk much. In every conversation, they try to keep the ratio at 2:1 — listening twice as much as they speak.
Even if they’re unaware of why they do it, the reason is that they know everyone has a favorite subject, and that subject is the same for everyone.
What’s the subject?
Yep, if you can get someone to share about themselves, far from finding you quiet or boring, they’ll come away from the conversation thinking of you as interested, interesting, gracious, kind, and well-versed on a wide range of great topics. And that’s all because you listened to them and asked questions concerning what they like to talk about.
Without a doubt, the best way to start a great conversation and to keep it going is to ask about the other person(s) and to keep asking. However, proceed with some caution here, because there are surprising things you should ask and things you shouldn’t ask. These two posts deal with conversations at holiday parties, but the principles apply to conversations no matter where they occur. Check out Great Party Conversation and What Never to Ask at a Party.
The Top 7 Tips for How to Start a Great Conversation
1. Send body language signals that you’re happy to talk with people. Our body language speaks for us before we even say our first words and throughout our conversations. Here are the body language basics you’ll want to use in all your conversations.
A.) Whenever possible, stand up ASAP. When you stand up, you’re literally rising to the occasion of talking to people. Standing sends a clear signal that you were doing one thing and now you’re changing to give them your attention. That’s a gift everyone appreciates.
B.) Make eye contact and smile. Show others that you have good intentions by looking them in the eyes and maintaining eye contact. If your eyes dart, looking for someone else, or you glance at your smartphone, it’s a clear signal that those you’re conversing with don’t have your full attention.
Whenever others don’t have your full attention, they have no idea how much of it you want to give them. The natural tendency is to assume it’s zero.
As for your smile, it’s your non-verbal invitation for them to approach you because it signals that you’re happy to engage with them. Smile warmly. The more the world sees your pearly whites, the more they perceive you as confident, secure, gracious, kind, fun and likable.
D.) Don’t lean against anything. It causes you to look like you’re about to be put to sleep by the other person and need help standing upright. It also subconsciously signals that you’re trying to back away and put as much distance as possible between the two of you.
E.) Keep your hands by your side and out of your pockets. Hidden hands make people wonder what else you’re hiding, and they make you look fidgety as if you’re in a rush to end the conversation.
F.) Use body language to encourage them to continue talking. Throughout your conversations with others, give them the green light to continue. You do this by smiling, nodding your head, and mirroring their facial expressions. For example, if they’re speaking of something happy, you’d want to smile. If they’re speaking of a problem that’s troubling them, your demeanor would be serious.
Now that our body language is on autopilot for welcoming, the next six etiquettes are all about what to say.
2. Introduce yourself so that you’re both on a first-name basis. Sometimes, first sentences come easily, and sometimes they don’t. Either way, introduce yourself early in the conversation. If you start talking and two or three minutes into the conversation you realize you don’t know the other person’s name, it’s time to pause for introductions. But “interrupt yourself,” not those you’re talking to (in other words, wait until you’re speaking to begin the introduction): “…..We haven’t been introduced! I’m Regina Harvey.” At this point, extend your hand to shake.
The other person(s) should instinctively respond with their name. If they don’t (you’ll be surprised by how often they don’t!), simply say, “Please tell me your name.” Once they share their name with you, make sure to use it often in the conversation, starting with this: “It’s nice to meet you, Patricia!” You then can carry on the conversation from right where you “interrupted yourself.”
Saying others’ names in conversations not only will help you remember them but also will help you build a bond with them. Science backs up the fact that we all have a favorite word. The word is our name. The more you use others’ names, without going overboard, the more they feel like you’re interested in them.
Grace note: It’s best to give our first and last names because there is more than one Steve, Nancy, Dave, Beth, Rory, Ava, and just about every other name. Plus, we sound more forthcoming when we do. However, safety ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS trumps etiquette. Consider your location and situation. If you aren’t certain that it’s safe to share your full name with another person, use your first name only. If even that makes you uncomfortable, use your middle name (or a made-up one). Better yet, leave the place, because if you don’t feel safe with the people around you, you don’t belong there.
3. Search for a “Me too!” moment. In general, we prefer the company of others who share commonalities with us. We seek out our own.
To have a great conversation, you need to bounce around topics until one of you says something that causes the other person’s eyes to light up as they say, “Me too!” Once this happens, you’ve found conversation gold — a commonality. Keep digging in the same gold mine, because that’s the first topic you’ll want to expand on.
From there, most conversations will take on a natural flow as one “Me too!” moment usually leads you to the next, and the next, and the next!
4. Find “Me too!” moments by asking questions. At the start of a conversation, you don’t want to ask about people’s marital status, or whether they have children, or what work they do. After you’ve shared a couple of “Me Too!” moments, you can ask more personal questions and find out whether you have even more in common.
Depending on where you are, ask questions that make sense for the location and the situation. Here are some examples of first questions that take into account what we’ve mentioned about starting conversations:
“Church is crowded today. Does it seem that way to you, or is it just me?”
“This caramelized brie is delicious! Amanda and Ty always have the most delicious food at their parties! What’s your favorite here (on the table) so far?”
“Today’s my first spin class ever. Do you have any helpful hints?”
“This is my first week on the job. I’m still meeting everyone and thought I’d introduce myself so we weren’t strangers. I’m Vonnie Jackson.”
“Mentors have an easier time getting through trouble spots in their mentoring relationships if they understand the basics of the typical match “life cycle.” All matches go through a similar set up ups and downs and you will have an easier time working with your mentee and getting appropriate support from staff if you know what to expect.”
“When challenges arise in the mentoring relationship, remember: A mentor is… a responsible and caring friend, a role model, a patient listener, an advocate, a nurturer of possibilities A mentor is not… a counselor or social worker, a parent or guardian, a disciplinarian, a party planner or money machine, a savior. “
“Rather than taking your mentee’s behavior personally, remember that it has nothing to do with you, but rather is a manifestation of his fear of being rejected one more time by one more adult.”
While occasional bad moods or acting out is to be expected during the teenage years, depression is something different. The negative effects of teenage depression go far beyond a melancholy mood. Depression can destroy the essence of your teen’s personality, causing an overwhelming sense of sadness, despair, or anger. Many rebellious and unhealthy behaviors or attitudes in teenagers can be indications of depression. The following are some the ways in which teens “act out” in an attempt to cope with their emotional pain:
Problems at school. Depression can cause low energy and concentration difficulties. At school, this may lead to poor attendance, a drop in grades, or frustration with schoolwork in a formerly good student.
Running away. Many depressed teens run away from home or talk about running away. Such attempts are usually a cry for help.
Drug and alcohol abuse. Teens may use alcohol or drugs in an attempt to “self-medicate” their depression. Unfortunately, substance abuse only makes things worse.
Low self-esteem. Depression can trigger and intensify feelings of ugliness, shame, failure, and unworthiness.
Reckless behavior. Depressed teens may engage in dangerous or high-risk behaviors, such as reckless driving, binge drinking, and unsafe sex.
Violence. Some depressed teens—usually boys who are the victims of bullying—can become aggressive and violent.
Teen depression is also associated with a number of other mental health problems, including eating disorders and self-injury. While depression can cause tremendous pain for your teen—and disrupt everyday family life—there are plenty of things you can do to help your child start to feel better. The first step is to learn what teen depression looks like and what to do if you spot the warning signs.
What are the signs and symptoms of depression in teens?
Unlike adults, who have the ability to seek assistance on their own, teenagers rely on parents, teachers, or other caregivers to recognize their suffering and get them the help they need. But that isn’t always easy. For one, teens with depression don’t necessarily appear sad. Instead, irritability, anger, and agitation may be the most prominent symptoms.
Signs and symptoms of teen depression:
Sadness or hopelessness
Irritability, anger, or hostility
Tearfulness or frequent crying
Withdrawal from friends and family
Loss of interest in activities
Poor school performance
Changes in eating and sleeping habits
Restlessness and agitation
Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
Fatigue or lack of energy
Unexplained aches and pains
Thoughts of death or suicide
How to help a depressed teenager
Depression is very damaging when left untreated, so don’t wait and hope that worrisome symptoms will go away. If you suspect that your teen is depressed, bring up your concerns in a loving, non-judgmental way. Even if you’re unsure that depression is the issue, the troublesome behaviors and emotions you’re seeing are signs of a problem that should be addressed.
Open up a dialogue by letting your teen know what specific depression symptoms you’ve noticed and why they worry you. Then ask your child to share what they’re going through—and be ready and willing to truly listen. Hold back from asking a lot of questions (most teenagers don’t like to feel patronized or crowded), but make it clear that you’re ready and willing to provide whatever support they need.
How to communicate with a depressed teen
Focus on listening, not lecturing. Resist any urge to criticize or pass judgment once your teenager begins to talk. The important thing is that your child is communicating. You’ll do the most good by simply letting your teen know that you’re there for them, fully and unconditionally.
Be gentle but persistent. Don’t give up if they shut you out at first. Talking about depression can be very tough for teens. Even if they want to, they may have a hard time expressing what they’re feeling. Be respectful of your child’s comfort level while still emphasizing your concern and willingness to listen.
Acknowledge their feelings. Don’t try to talk your teen out of depression, even if their feelings or concerns appear silly or irrational to you. Well-meaning attempts to explain why “things aren’t that bad” will just come across as if you don’t take their emotions seriously. Simply acknowledging the pain and sadness they are experiencing can go a long way in making them feel understood and supported.
Trust your gut. If your teen claims nothing is wrong but has no explanation for what is causing the depressed behavior, you should trust your instincts. If your teen won’t open up to you, consider turning to a trusted third party: a school counselor, favorite teacher, or a mental health professional. The important thing is to get them talking to someone.
Helping a depressed teen tip 1: Encourage social connection
Depressed teens tend to withdraw from their friends and the activities they used to enjoy. But isolation only makes depression worse, so do what you can to help your teen reconnect.
Make face time a priority. Set aside time each day to talk—time when you’re focused totally on your teen, without distractions or trying to multi-task. The simple act of connecting face to face can play a big role in reducing your teen’s depression. And remember: talking about depression or your teen’s feelings will not make the situation worse, but your support can make all the difference in their recovery.
Combat social isolation. Do what you can to keep your teen connected to others. Encourage them to go out with friends or invite friends over. Participate in activities that involve other families and give your child an opportunity to meet and connect with other kids.
Get your teen involved. Suggest activities—such as sports, after-school clubs, or an art, dance, or music class—that take advantage of your teen’s interests and talents. While your teen may lack motivation and interest at first, as they reengage with the world, they should start to feel better and regain their enthusiasm.
Physical and mental health are inextricably connected. Depression is exacerbated by inactivity, inadequate sleep, and poor nutrition. Unfortunately, teens are known for their unhealthy habits: staying up late, eating junk food, and spending hours on their phones and devices. But as a parent, you can combat these behaviors by establishing a healthy, supportive home environment.
Get your teen moving!Exercise is absolutely essential to mental health, so get your teen active—whatever it takes. Ideally, teens should be getting at least an hour of physical activity a day, but it needn’t be boring or miserable. Think outside the box: walking the dog, dancing, shooting hoops, going for a hike, riding bikes, skateboarding—as long as they’re moving, it’s beneficial.
Set limits on screen time. Teens often go online to escape their problems, but when screen time goes up, physical activity and face time with friends goes down. Both are a recipe for worsening symptoms.
Provide nutritious, balanced meals. Make sure your teen is getting the nutrition they need for optimum brain health and mood support: things like healthy fats, quality protein, and fresh produce. Eating a lot of sugary, starchy foods—the quick “pick me up” of many depressed teens—will only have a negative effect on their mood and energy.
Encourage plenty of sleep.Teens need more sleep than adults to function optimally—up to 9-10 hours per night. Make sure your teen isn’t staying up until all hours at the expense of much-needed, mood-supporting rest.
Does your grade-schooler have difficulty “reading” other people’s body language? Does he/she misunderstand what’s happening in social situations? Here’s how you can help your child pick up on common social cues.
PRACTICE MAKING EYE CONTACT – Encourage your child to look at your eyes when you two talk. When she’s focused on your face, she can see your expressions change. (Make sure your eyes are on her when she speaks to you, too.) Ask her what your expressions mean. If she doesn’t know, explain the message your were sending.
ENCOURAGE ATTENTION – Give your child your full attention when you’re talking to her. By doing so, you’re setting a great example. Save texting and checking your email for another time. Try not to let your mind wander. If you notice your child spacing off when you’re speaking to her, gently guider her back: “Can you please look at my face when I’m talking to you?”
OBSERVE YOUR CHILD’S EXPRESSIONS – Help your child realize how expressive (their) own face can be. This can help (them) notice other people’s facial expressions. You might say, “Your eyebrows are raised. Are you feeling surprised?” or “That’s a big smile. Tell me what you’re so happy about.”
NOTICE OTHERS’ BODY LANGUAGE – Help your child begin to see what the people around (them) are “saying” with their bodies. Playing charades can be a fun way to get kids thinking about communicating through their bodies. Also, point out the behavior of people you see: “The man in that line is tapping his foot and fidgeting. How do you think he feels” Talk through how characters on TV are feeling based on their body language.
DISCUSS WHAT’S EXPECTED IN DIFFERENT SITUATIONS – How your child talks on the playground to friends shouldn’t be the same as how (they’d) address the principal. Kids who have trouble with social cues might no realize this. Talk with your child about the different people (they) interact with regularly. Who might get a high five? Who gets a more formal hello?
POINT OUT PITCH AND TONE – Some kids have trouble noticing changes i voice, sometimes called inflections. When that happens, your child might miss a bigger message because she’s taking speech too literally. So help her notice nuances in pitch and tone. Talk through how the same statement (for example, “Can you please get me the mail?”) can be a simple request or an angry demand, depending on how you say it.
PRACTICE INFLECTIONS – If your child can read aloud well, have (them) read to you regularly. Choose stories that have lots of dialogue. That way (he/she) can practice changing (their) voice depending on how the character is feeling or what (they’re) trying to say. If your child doesn’t read well, you can read stories to (them) that have lots of dialogue or take out an audiobook from the library.
ROLE-PLAY COMMON SCENARIOS – Kids who have trouble with social cues can benefit from practicing everyday interactions. Try role-playing different situations with your child. Respond to things (they say or do) using body language and expressions. Ask your child what messages you’re sending out and how she might react to them.