I am a senior at the University of Minnesota in the Youth Studies program there and I need some help helping a youth who goes to the school that I work at. It is one of those medical model schools in which all the students are diagnosed "disordered" and are learning how to be "ordered." I work as an experiential educator as a "collaborating partner" with the school staff.
The youth is 16 years old, male, lives in a
tenuous relationship at home with his parents whom he does not understand
and says that they do not understand him. He deals drugs out of his home,
says that he owns a gun that he keeps loaded in his room. Understandably his
parents are afraid of him, and from the sound of it do not know what to do
with him. When he gets in trouble at school and gets kicked out, like this
most recent situation, they ground him. And he doesn't stay put, doesn't
think he should, but also doesn't know what else to do.
The teachers at our school do not understand him, he gets very impatient with "hypocritical adult rules" and has trouble controlling his temper. He has expressed to me that he wants someone to tell him what to do, because he doesn't think that he is able to make good decisions for himself ( a combination of adults telling him that his decisions are bad and the experience of being in a power seeking relationship as a drug dealer) I can't even begin to, nor do I want to, analyze or understand how this kid is put together or all that.
However, I have a lot of respect for this young man. He is really smart,
understands respect and wants an adult who can teach him and guide him (he
has explicitly stated this to me when I asked him what he wants to learn and
get out of school). A couple of days ago I found him outside of school after
getting kicked out, standing in the drizzle with nowhere to go. So we talked
and I came up with the idea of going down to Project Offstreets which is a
resource center for homeless youth in Minneapolis. Maybe we can get him some
new options program.
My longwinded question is this:
Am I doing the right thing by this young man? What are the potential pitfalls that I might fall into with the parents and other staff at the school? I am trying to be careful to not let myself be duped or used by this kid. I feel that I am a person that he feels comfortable talking to frankly. He may not be telling me the whole truth, and he is confused too. What are other people's experiences with this kind of thing? What other options are there for this young man in Minneapolis? He doesn't live in Minneapolis, but in Brooklyn Park, an outlying suburb. I would love to take this kid out on experiential learning activities (I am an experiential learning coordinator in the school that he goes to; I work for the University of Minnesota in "collaboration" with his staff in the alternative school). But either his staff or he sabotages the potentiality of this.
Any help is much appreciated
Pete De Long
What's up Pete — It sounds as though you are doing all you can, and by respecting him you are probably helping him respect himself, even though it may not seem like it. It's nice to know that there are youth workers out there who will take time out of their day to reflect and ask questions about unusually tough things. All I can say is that there are always those boundaries involving the workplace and it sucks when emotions get in the way, but what can one do? I know you'll do the right thing because you've already done enough for him by getting yourself so involved in his life.
Good luck. Sincerely,
.I am in Australia and am employed as a youth worker (Drug & Alcohol), it sounds to me that you are doing just fine. Honesty is the best thing for this kid as it sounds like he has already has his fair share of 'cowdung' (for the want of a better word).
Don't worry too much about being fooled 'cause you should always be mindful of this anyway — as long as you remove your personal feelings and concentrate on the professional relationship — it shouldn't effect you. Also he is likely to lie to you to test his boundaries, as long as he can see that you have his best interests at heart, you should still be OK with your relationship with him.
School is enhancing the negativity he already has in his life — look for his potentials (music, sport, etc) and tap into these. What are his passions, life goals, etc, how are they still achievable. If he wants some boundaries and responsibilities — get him into peer support programs where he may able to be a 'positive' role model. Work on socializing him, giving him some connection to his community, but most of all give him power through opportunity, participation and ownership. I hop this made some sense. I wish you well.
Michelle Ann Mayes
Stand by him and gain his trust then help him figure out what he wants out of life — not just out of school — and then tell him flat out what he has to do to achieve those goals and let him make the decisions from there.
Don't be afraid to put yourself in the position of "being duped or used", it is all part of the therapeutic process. I think you are doing some of the real stuff. You may want to consider how to help his parents do what you are doing through a MST therapist. I know that Minnesota has MST, I'm not sure if they are in your area?
Hi Pete, His parents are afraid of him, he has a loaded gun! Deals in drugs. I may be naive (coming from New Zealand) but the above issues (self esteem aside) would seem to need to be addressed somewhat urgently I would think.
On the basis of the old child and youth care maxim that we should "Never do alone what would be better done by three" you should make sure that your team (or at least a supervisor or a colleague) is behind you and contributing ideas as you go out there as the "index worker" with this youngster. The fact that you are feeling unsure suggests that it would be important to have someone alongside you as you read the ground and plan your route — for 'clinical' reasons as well as legal/professional. He is talking with you and sharing some of his hostility and alienation stuff which means that he is working at something. It's good that you (and someone else) are there with him. Let us know.
It is interesting that as I read the responses to your questions I realize that we all have different takes on the story. Personally, I want to hear more about the gun that the youth says he has. Why did he tell you about it? What does he expect you to do? In regards to doing the right thing ... I have always imagined that it takes 30 (no special reason for that number) to help a child; the challenge being that we never know if we are number 1 or number 30. Most likely we fall in-between. It sounds as though with you and 29 others, this youth is getting a great amount of help. Keep up the good work!