Reclaiming Youth at Risk: Our Hope for the Future by Larry Brendtro, Martin Brokenleg and Steve Van Bockern is a profoundly aware book. The empathy that is helping create in me is shaping how I think about students.
The authors accomplish this shift in thinking by changing the language that is used when discussing troubled youth. Simply by shifting the language used I am forced to change how I think about the students.
|I have taken the tables from the book and recreated them. I will use this image to guide the language that we, as a staff use when discussing students.|
I have never really written a book review, and that is not what I intend to do here. I want to record some of the ideas that really resonate with me. In this process it will help me record my ideas for future use, and it will also help me to understand what they mean a little more deeply.
Understanding that the students who actively work against our best efforts to help them are "relationship-resistant" and view "even friendly helpful adults with deep distrust" is so helpful in helping us not take their resistance personally. I have so often heard people say, "the student isn't making any effort, so I am not going to keep trying to connect with him/her." We need to recognize that they are pushing us away as a defensive reaction. We should not expect them to respond with gratitude or to reciprocate our care.
The first part of this book on "the seeds of discouragement" also points out "our tendency to attribute problems to the troubled individual" and respond with coerciveness and avoidance when that individual doesn't act how we believe they should be acting. How can anyone, the authors challenge, "reject a child's behavior without implicitly rejecting the child?" Using Negative labels (like in the table above) taints the child as a person. The solution to helping reclaim youth is to shift away from a language of blame and toward a language of empathy.
I can hear all of my less empathetic family members and colleagues raising their challenges now. This is not about indulging destructive behavior or allowing youth to get away with everything because of their upbringing. It is about recognizing that the defiance and disrespect is an expression of frustration and discouragement. There is something very powerful in this linguistic shift because it impacts our fundamental perception of the behavior. Try it, it creates empathy.
Follow this logic from the text. We want the at risk youth to change and adopt positive behaviors and thoughts towards themselves, others around them and their own future right? Overindulgence of the youth's destructive behavior won't work. Authoritarian control and an insistence on complete obedience won't work in changing the youth's behavior either. "Young people seek help only from adults they see as caring and nurturing." We have to change how we talk and think about these children in order to create a mental environment that contains genuine care and concern. That comes from empathy.