Navigating the icy walkway of adolescence – Winter CoEducational Social
By Stephen C. Schultz
The morning was cool as I made my way across the snow packed driveway. It wasn’t a fresh snow pack, but one that had been there a couple of weeks and was now essentially ice. I stepped through the door and wiped the snowy ice crystals from my shoes. As I moved down the hallway to the left, I sensed an awkwardness I wasn’t used to. I stepped into the kitchen, my senses heightened; recognizing immediately that the uncomfortable feeling in the air was so thick you could cut it with a knife.
My gaze went from the kitchen counter, where there were rows of name tags, to the living room. Sitting on six light beige couches were students from Discovery Ranch for Boys as well as students from Discovery Ranch for Girls. The girls were on the couches to the left and the boys on the couches to the right. They each sat there in awkward silence, whispering from time to time with the occasional giggle. I recognized this experience immediately, for it was awkwardness like every Jr. High School dance I had ever witnessed as a teen.
Craig Smith, LCSW and the Clinical Director at Discovery Ranch for Boys welcomed everyone to the Co-educational winter social. He explained the purpose of the gathering and provided guidelines and structure for making this a fun, therapeutic and educational experience for all involved. Then he opened the activity with an ice breaker where the students had to mingle, ask questions and determine the name of a famous person that was stuck to their back.
While this is the first such activity since the girls and boys campuses were split, this is not new to Discovery Ranch. Discovery Ranch has always held the belief that it was therapeutic to have the girls and boys interact when clinically indicated.
The day continued with the student’s practicing communication skills, having lunch together, attending an art museum and going bowling. The entire day was a subtle “Teaching Moment”. It was an experience for the students that was emotionally safe as well as fun.
I observed as one of the students from Discovery Ranch for Girls approached her therapist during an activity. This particular student had suffered some significant trauma throughout her young life. She was somewhat reserved, shy and struggled with social situations. She said to her therapist, obviously recognizing some of her therapeutic concerns, “This is very overwhelming for me”. Her therapist replied in a very kind and supportive way, “It’s so good for you to be in touch with those emotions right now. How can you use the skills we’ve worked on to help you manage this situation in a healthy way?” The student then smiled, turned and walked back to the group, interacting with more confidence.
In a room full of students and staff, I felt fortunate to witness this young lady’s small personal victory. In fact, I would bet that the girl, her therapist and I are the only ones even aware that this interaction took place.
These are the subtle differences and small progressive steps that happen in the lives of students when they participate in activities such as this one. Much like walking on the snow packed driveway, these teens need the life experience of a firm foundation and sure footing as they navigate the slippery slopes of adolescence.