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As a parent or youth worker, how many times have you told a young person something that you thought fell on deaf ears? Did you feel like you were just wasting your breath trying to offer practical advice to a youth whose body language is telling you to “go to hell?”
Before you conclude that you just wasted a breath that you will need later in life, consider this: The adolescent brain processes information differently than the adult brain.
According to Dr. Daniel R. Weinberger, co-author of The Adolescent Brain: A Work in Progress, a teenager’s brain is still developing. The last part of the brain to fully mature is the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for such skills as setting priorities, organizing plans and ideas, forming strategies, controlling impulses and allocating attention.
In other words, most youth have not reached a level of maturity to comprehend adult concepts that we may consider common sense. Therefore, we should not expect rational decisions from them without guidance and a boatload of patience.
If you are an individual who works with young people in any capacity, I highly encourage you to develop more patience. Don’t expect immediate, dramatic results. We need to allow time for the information to be processed. Later, you may be surprised to learn that the 30-minute lecture on the hazards of drug addiction was not in vain. They may not appear to be listening, but their brain may be processing the information.
Many of today’s youth generation may be what we call “hard-headed learners,” meaning that they have to learn by way of experiencing consequences of their actions. Some youth can learn from what they hear and see, meaning they are visual and auditory learners.
I didn’t have to experience being hit by a car to know not to play in the streets. However, my childhood friend Leroy didn’t heed his mother’s multiple warnings about running in the streets and got hit by a Cadillac Seville. After healing from his bruises, you couldn’t pay him to go in the street again. Unfortunately, in today’s environment, many youths will not survive the consequences of their bad decisions.
I am currently working with a youth who has been dismissed or expelled from multiple youth programs and organizations due to his stubborn resistance to adult authority. I had been involved with him as a mentor and life-skills coach for several years and exhausted all my resources in an attempt to redirect him. His mother approached me and said she was done with him and was sending him to live in another city.
It seemed as though we have failed to reach this troubled youth and could only pray for his well-being. As I continued to advocate for him, I received quite a bit of resistance from colleagues and partnering youth organizations due to his reputation.
I begin to explain to him in clear terms what his current situation is and the critical need for him to make the necessary adjustment to improve the quality of his life. He humbly spoke to me with a tone and voice that I had only heard from experienced and intelligent adults. He has begun to appreciate my sincere efforts to support him. He also shared with me that after recently losing a close family member to street violence, everything that we had discussed in the past came to light for him.
After several years of struggle working with this young man, I am finally seeing him make the behavioral and attitude adjustments needed.
What a fine example of the need for patience and persistence. Let’s remember to continue to plant seeds of wisdom in the minds of the youth we serve regardless of whether or not we believe it’s making a difference. Sometimes the flower blooms a bit later than we anticipate. Just plant the seed and pray that it grows.
By Deon Price
10 March 2018