Swatting the Flies

At our Giants hockey game fundraiser

It’s spring time and the the house flies are out in force at my house. Perhaps you can relate to this warm weather battle? My first defense is usually the fly swatter but it doesn’t take long to realize that I need to actually deal with what was attracting the flies in the first place or they’ll be back tomorrow. Unfortunately for me cleaning up the dishes and taking out the garbage is so much more work than the fly swatter! In much the same way, it’s easy to focus on the bad behavior in a young person’s life. We try to swat those behavior flies instead of doing the hard work of dealing with the smelly stuff that’s attracting those flies.

What kind of smelly stuff am I talking about? Insecurity, fear of rejection, the inability to forgive, emotional traumas, mental illness, broken relationships, lack of safety or basic needs. Take my young friend who brags about all their destructive sexual encounters. It’s easy to condemn them but what I see is a young person who wants to be loved unconditionally. They don’t need behavior modification, they need the antibiotics of unconditional love.

The interesting thing I’ve observed is that when we focus on a youth person’s negative behaviors, those behaviors often get worse. It’s usually when we redirect a youth’s energies into their strengths and passions that those flies begin to disappear all on their own. Check out this helpful excerpt from Reclaiming Our Prodigal Sons and Daughters by Larry K. Brendtro & Scott Larson.

“Because we tend to focus so much on negative behavior with troubled youth, it should not surprise us when the results of our efforts are less than exhilarating. Positive outcomes are seldom achieved by focusing on the negative. But when a young person’s positive attributes are recognized, encouraged, and praised, real change for the better is just around the corner. That is what redirecting is all about. Before we can expect young people to redirect their energies, we must be willing to redirect ours.”

Tips For Redirecting Youth
1.  Recast all problems as learning opportunities. Please coach me, don’t scold me.
2.  Become a talent scout. Help me find success, and you become important to me.
3.  Provide fail-safe relationships. I need to know you won’t give up on me.
4.  Increase dosages of nurturing. A person like me really needs a fan club.
5.  Don’t crowd. When you get too close, I will need to back away for a while.
6.  Decode the meaning of behavior. I often try to hide what I really think.
7.  Be authoritative, not authoritarian. Help me learn how to control myself.
8.  Respect the disrespectful. I don’t deserve your respect but desperately need it.
9.  Make me a partner in my healing. I am the only real expert on my life.
10.  Touch in small ways. I watch you and notice the little things you say and do.
11.  Give seeds time to grow. Please be patient with me—I’m still learning.
12.  Connect youth to cultural and spiritual roots. I need to know there is a purpose for my life.

- Derian Julihn


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