Despite the title, this post is not about my recent 30th birthday. It's about being a role model to teenagers.
I'm one week away from completing the first semester of my internship. Each week, I love it more and more. I have built some very nice relationships with both students and faculty members there. And I feel like, even if I'm not making a huge impact on the students' lives, I'm at least being someone they can talk to and who listens and cares.
The part I'm struggling a bit with is the fact that at the high school, I'm a grown-up. It's a fine balance that I'm walking, because as a counselor to them, I have to be able to relate to them, but I also have to be a good role model and set a good example. While I am a friend and there to listen, I also can't encourage them to skip class and not do their homework. I am there to be caring but tough at the same time, not to accept excuses, but to find ways in which to get them motivated to do whatever work they should be doing and to emphasize the importance of working hard so that they can have a future.
They need to respect me, not see me as one of them. So, gone are my sparkly nails, my denim and my glitter. In place of those are sensible shoes, nice, normal colored nails, appropriate make-up and professional dress. While I can sometimes share musical tastes with the students, I am not there to make them my Facebook friends (and certainly not to encourage them to spend any more time on MySpace than they already do).
All of this has been quite an adjustment from my care-free, no-rules, totally laid-back and casual office environment that I have been working in for the past 2-1/2 years. Every week when I get ready for my internship, I agonize over what to wear - the proper combination of professional, but not too dressy, adult-ish, but with my own flair.
What's even weirder is being the adult to students who already have kids - who are dealing with stages of life that I have not yet faced. But I am still there to be a support, to lend them an ear, and to try to help them get through.
Signing my own lease for an apartment, buying a brand new car and paying it off, buying furniture, drinking coffee every day - I thought all of these things made me feel like a grown-up. But I realize now that being a role model and encouragement and even being tough sometimes; those are the things that make a person an adult.