As a professional massage therapist, you already know how important it is to create a compassionate, non-judgmental healing space for clients.
This is especially true if you work with teenage clients.
Too many adult and elder clients judge the teenage population harshly, often calling them lazy, entitled or soft. Teens can palpably feel these attitudes.
It is simply human nature to shy away from people holding negative attitudes toward you, so it should be no surprise that teens tend to retreat from adults who share these negative sentiments.
In order to provide them with safe, effective massage therapy sessions, the therapist needs to display that he or she can respect teenage clients just as much as adult clients.
What Is Your Body Saying?
Teens can sense right away the general attitude any adult, such as a massage therapist, will have toward them; it shows itself in your body language and word usage.
Language experts say a significant portion of language interpretation stems from nonverbal communication. You may appear condescending if you avoid eye contact, fold your arms, create physical barriers, show negative facial expressions or distance yourself from the client.
Conversely, you may appear more supportive when you make strong eye contact, relax and open your arms, face the client directly, clear away barriers, lean forward toward the client, use facial expressions displaying interest and avoid holding or using objects while the client speaks.
Use Your Words Wisely
With teens, try avoiding using phrases such as “you are just a child/kid/baby)”; “you’ll learn someday”; or “ask your parents to do ___ for you.” These phrases can come across as belittling to a teen.
Remember, this teen client is coming to you for massage therapy, not a parental lecture.
Additionally, by asking open-ended questions you allow a teen to express fully his or her experience, an opportunity that will be welcomed by the teen client.
Does Massage Benefit Teens?
Physically, massage may greatly benefit the teen client. Many are involved in high school athletics, which may lead to chronic aches, pains and injuries.
Sports massage has become more integrated into many high schools nationwide, with therapists employing stretching, massage therapy, injury rehabilitation, and hydrotherapy to their athletic teen clients.
Even teens not participating in sports will benefit from the application of massage. They sit for long periods of time at desks, computers and uncomfortable assembly benches or bleachers in school.
Even if they are hurting, teens may never verbally express their physical dysfunction, especially to an adult; therefore, evaluating their posture, gait and general kinematics will help a massage therapist better ascertain a teen client’s physical state of health.
Massage Therapy and Puberty
The teen population has a unique concern: puberty. The physical changes they experience, coupled with attitudes, perspectives, judgments and personal feelings, impact teens’ mental and emotional bodies.
As the body develops, social perceptions shape the teen’s self-perception. This perception impacts all aspects of teens’ health.
As boys develop into men, physical features such as the emergence of body hair, tonicity and size of muscles, height, weight and reproductive organ development are factors that weigh heavily on their minds.
Likewise, as girls develop into women, physical features such as gluteal and hip appearance, breast development, height, weight, facial features, body shape proportions and body hair will preoccupy their thoughts.
In either case, self-perception of physical changes is a major factor in how comfortable teens become with their bodies, and whether they choose to receive massage therapy.
Other Teen Issues
The popularity of social media, coupled with online bullying, can accelerate a teen’s already negative self-perception. Be sensitive to this fact.
Before the internet became an entrenched entity, a teen bullied at school escaped the bullying for a short while when at home; however, with social media extending to all aspects of home, work and social life, a teen now continues to face the brunt of bullying long after dismissal from class.
Also consider that many teens are in the unfortunate position of being unable to afford college as easily as prior generations.
According to Inside Higher Ed, college tuition and fees have continued to outpace financial aid available in the past decade. At some colleges, tuition and fees have doubled in the space of one generation, whereas median incomes nationally have risen 15 to 20 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
This creates more pressure within family units for teens to earn scholarships, as well as work more hours at jobs, creating less time for studying at home. Pressure to earn college entry can also push teens to breaking points physically and mentally, especially when parental pressures are also placed upon the teen.
Sadly, teen suicide rates are climbing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studies indicate that the number of suicides among teen girls has doubled from 2007 to 2015; for teen boys, that number has increased 50 percent in the same time frame.
Overall, teenage boys have three times as many suicide incidents as teenage girls. These trends continue to rise each year, according to the QPR Institute, an organization offering suicide prevention training.
Teens Are Emotional
This information about the stress under which teens live is important to massage therapists for for two reasons. First, it highlights the need to be sensitive to the emotional needs of teen clients. Secondly, it helps massage therapists recognize why teen clients, more so than other populations, may exhibit emotions upon receiving bodywork.
Be prepared for somato-emotional responses from your teen clients. I recommend this guide if a teenage client exhibits such responses:
1. Acknowledge that an emotion is arising upon the table.
2. Validate that this emotion is OK to experience in the moment.
3. Offer options regarding care at this point—whether the massage should continue, be paused or change.
4. Be comforting and reassuring that the expression of emotion is a normal part of what can happen during massage.
Teens and Energy Work
Bodywork methods considered energy work are especially useful for teenage clients experiencing emotional dis-ease. In my practice in Tempe, Arizona, I often employ reiki in sessions for the teen population, with great success.
Other modalities of this form of bodywork include acupressure, shiatsu, Thai massage, Jin Shin Jyutsu, therapeutic touch, polarity therapy and scores of others. Ultimately, any massage and bodywork may elicit emotional responses when a client is ready to release emotional trauma.
Real Life Relief
In this time of increased technology, it is easy for a teen to escape the physical world, remaining welded in a virtual world. The psychological ramifications of never receiving loving touch can be detrimentally life-altering.
Common mantras of massage therapists such as “heal the planet one body at a time,” “touching mind, body and soul”, and “loving touch to unite the body and spirit” are especially true for the teen client.
Teens are often overlooked in the “who can benefit from massage?” conversation. Let us remember that, even though their bodies are younger and may be healthier, they need bodywork just like everyone else.
About the Author:
Jimmy Gialelis, LMT, BCTMB, is owner of Advanced Massage Arts & Education in Tempe, Arizona. He is a National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork-approved provider of continuing education, and teaches “Professional Ethics for LMTs” and many other CE classes. He is a regular contributor to MASSAGE Magazine, and his articles include “To Succeed in Today’s Massage Market, You Can’t Make These 3 Mistakes” and “These 5 Keys Will Unlock the Door to Massage Session Re-Bookings.”