This week’s blog post is by Mike Haarer, director of Compass Rose Academy. To learn more about Mike, click here.
As we near the one year mark since the first students were enrolled at Compass Rose Academy, I have found myself reflecting on our students, their families, our joint experiences and this incredible journey. As is often the case, those of us doing the teaching have also been students ourselves, learning and growing along the way. I want to share three main takeaways that I have gained over the course of this first year.
The Relentless Love of Parents
As we have heard from countless families from all over the country in the past year and have worked closely with 10 of those families, I have found myself identifying with and deeply admiring the love of parents toward their children. Admittedly, as a new dad with a toddler and another on the way, I have not yet been the parent of a struggling teen in my own home. But as parents share their stories, their regrets, their hopes and their hurts in my office or over the phone, I can feel in myself the love of a parent who would do anything to see her child’s innocence restored, her hopes realized and the life back in her eyes. It has been an honor for us to have parents let us into their struggles, and I’ve been overwhelmed by their courage.
Parents often remark about the sense of failure they have to face in themselves to admit that they need help raising their child. It is defeating and isolating to face these struggles day in and day out without knowing where to turn. I have seen these same parents come out of isolation and join with other parents to find hope. I have seen them willingly face their past successes and mistakes in order to chart the best course for their future. I have seen the light return to parents’ faces when they first get the feeling that they have their old daughter back again.
A common thread that I have seen, not only in the 10 girls that we have worked with but also in countless conversations with other parents of struggling teens, is the difficulties teens face in forming a strong, healthy identity. The pressure that girls face to be cooler, thinner, smarter, funnier, and yes, even sexier, is overwhelming. I hear girls say, “I’m not sure who I am anymore, because I’ve been so busy trying to be like everyone else or who they want me to be.” There is a sense that who they are is never good enough.
Even despite the love of caring, stable, grounded, albeit imperfect parents, at some point, the people teens really want to impress is their peers. Consider it the lure of being popular — the dream of catching that boy’s eye, the hope of being important to someone. Girls often end up describing this feeling to me as “empty.” It comes with the realization that it’s never going to feel like they are good enough. “I’m never going to be pretty enough. The perfect boy always lets me down eventually if I don’t disappoint him first.”
We have a saying around Compass Rose that it is not about being good or bad, but about being loved. I have seen girls who had completely lost their sense of identity and entered into all sorts of enmeshing, unhealthy relationships to gain a sense of who they are, what they are good at and who they want to be — not who everyone else wants them to be, but who they want to be. I have seen their personalities begin to sparkle when they give up trying to impress or please everyone around them. I have seen them feel so good about setting healthy boundaries that they begin telling everyone to try it.
Grace and Truth Win!
Our program is founded on the principles of our Growth Model, developed in consultation with John Townsend, co-author of “Boundaries.” At the core, the Growth Model says that grace and truth over time is God’s intended plan for growth. How true it is. This simple phrase has resonated with nearly everyone we speak to, and we have seen it work over and over again.
Most of us can look at ourselves and say “I lean more heavily toward grace or permissiveness and have a hard time giving people the truth or structure when they need it” or “I lean so much toward truth and reality that I have a hard time extending the grace and compassion that others need.” An imbalance of grace and truth leads to trouble in one way or another. All grace and no truth leads to over-permissiveness and entitlement. All truth and no grace leads to perfectionism or self-doubt.
And unfortunately when it comes to healing, there is no quick fix. It is grace and truth joined together in our experiences and repeated over time that brings correction. Over the past year, I have seen our caring staff model this over and over again. We recognize that people will not accept our truth if they have not experienced our grace. I have seen our staff build solid, caring relationships through repeated interactions of grace, compassion and even fun. Likewise, I have seen our staff, through their relationships, set firm limits, hold the line and offer the truth and discipline that teens need. I have marveled at the way teens begin to take in that truth and rise to the challenge of making the difficult changes in attitude, behavior and performance. I have seen parents begin to explore their own abilities to marry grace and truth. I have even seen teens themselves learn that their interactions with others will be more fruitful and healthy if they remember to give both grace and truth.
As I look back, I am filled with joy and thanks for the past year, and I as I look forward I am filled with hope for the future. I know that there continue to be struggling families asking the question, “Where can we turn for help?” and I am excited to know that we will offer hope and help to many of these families in the years to come.
To learn more, contact Compass Rose Academy today.