My name is AJ and I am in the Child Studies degree at Mount Royal University, majoring in Child and Youth Care Counsellor.
I am wondering what actions staff can take when a youth does not take consequences seriously. A common claim made for a consequence such as a restitution is that it is a "joke".
I believe it is important to implement teaching moments in with poor decision making and restitutions are great for that, but sometimes youth do not take this seriously.
I would really appreciate some input on what you think about this and some advice on what other actions can be taken in this situation.
I would argue that perhaps the youth think the consequences are a joke because they are a joke.
That sounds a little more provocative than I intend but I think it's worth considering. The first question to ask when anyone is being held accountable for their actions is who's needs are being met by the consequence? Is it the public, who often view vulnerable youth as "trouble makers" who should be locked up and the key thrown away? Is it the staff and their desire for safety and predictability? Or is it the youth, who has done something potentially harmful and could use some redirection so they make a different choice next time? Then ask if the consequence actually accomplishes the goal (not YOUR goal, but the goal of the youth learning something).
Youth care needs to be more than "find out what they like and take it away". This becomes ineffective when the youth doesn't care about anything, they may consider your efforts a joke because what you're taking away or putting in place really doesn't matter to them. If all a youth cares about is having access to their music, and you take it away because they didn't go to school (or whatever), then to that young person you just look like a jerk and they learn not to trust you with things they care about. That doesn't mean find out what would make them really feel the consequence, it means dig into the meaning behind whatever behaviour is problematic and work with the youth to figure out why they made that choice. Then make a plan (however small) to support them in making a different choice next time. Learning doesn't always have to look like punishment.
If any of my coworkers are reading this they might roll their eyes at me because I say this all the time but Barbara Coloroso, a parenting expert, suggests that if it isn't illegal, life threatening or immoral, consider a more measured approach.
It is important not to make it a joke. If restitution is agreed upon, it must be followed up. I did find it was important to keep it to actual value of restitution. Damage something, replace it.
The joke angle is important though. Some young people just do not get it and often do not want to get it. Some are aggravated restitution payers. They pay off a huge bill, even in the hundreds and enjoy a brief moment of success and then turn around and run up another bill. One youth would run up ambulance bills for hysterical complaints which were not medically confirmed. She would keep a lid on the behavior while paying down a bill but once she did so, treated it as a credit and indulged again. Three rounds of this brought the impulse under control. The real need was dealing with her need for medical attention. Another into damaging things went for a few years in a restitution spiral. When she found something to save for, the behavior changed. She needed to learn to deserve her allowance.
The real issue is behavior can have financial consequences but the point is to focus upon the behavior allowing the financial to play out as it must. In adulthood, no one is going to cut one deals unless insurance is involved so it is important to make that point. It helps that peers who succeed with little or no restitution demonstrate the rewards of positive behavior be available.
The key is that the “consequence” has to matter to the young person. Sometimes we come up with something that makes sense to us but that doesn’t measure up to whatever “pay off” the kid got from their behavior. In other words, to make an impact we have to think of a consequence that isn’t a “joke”. It is important to remember that ALL behavior is motivated by either something we’ll “get” from the behavior or by something we’ll be able to “avoid”. If we get what we wanted, or avoided what we wanted to, we’ve got a reward. The consequence for the behavior has to be more powerful than the “reward” for the behavior. This takes some thinking, and some knowledge of the individual young person. Pre-determined, automatic consequences often lack power in terms of convincing a kid that the behavior wasn’t worth it.
No eye rolling here! I can't say I always understood or practiced what you shared about consequences but I completely get and support what you said.
I think it is important to take note of why the youth is considering restitution a "joke". Perhaps the youth have a valid reason that didn't come to you initially? I think it is worth a try to have that discussion. I highly recommend following the rich discussion thread started by Aimee: Power struggles with youth?
There are some great ideas and resources being shared there.
You can read the 'Power struggles with youth' thread
here. — Eds.