One of the highlights of my week is watching a film with my son on the weekend. It’s great!
But every now and again, it isn’t. The film is predictable – we know what’s likely to happen next and can guess the end.
It struck me recently that working with troubled young people can be similar to this. But in a good way – we have a chance to change the ending, to make it unpredictable.
Many people (the press, Joe Public) respond to them by assuming that the end is set in stone. That these kids are destined to fail.
But it doesn’t have to be like that…
Re-writing the ending…
Troubled kids struggle. They struggle because they’ve had a poor start in life for all sorts of reasons.
- Violence at home
- Multiple bereavements
- Trauma, etc.
Just because a child or young person is struggling now, doesn’t mean the end is predetermined. Failure is not the only ending. At least not if we do something to help them deal with their struggles.
This is my raison d’etre. This thought gets me out of bed in the morning:
Young people really can be helped to turn their lives around
There aren’t many jobs that can say they genuinely change people’s lives. But for those of us who get to care for and influence troubled young people, we can say that.
I have a small collection of thank you cards from young people. Badly spelt, with shocking grammar. But priceless nonetheless. They are a constant reminder of the successes. Of what can be achieved.
In my work with young people, I try to picture what an alternative ending could be like. It helps to:
- Find out what the young person themselves would like. Ask them the “miracle day question” if you had the power to write your life story, what would you make happen?…
- Talking about the future together helps too. It communicates belief – belief that things can change. And it starts them dreaming – if they’re not doing so already.
- Share a little about your own journey. They need to know that life just is a winding road, but that it can be changed by our decisions, etc. Our own lives can illustrate that for them.
What a privilege to get alongside a struggling young person and help them begin to draw a blueprint for the future!
When tiredness sets in, or difficult situations seem to abound, it helps to read the thank you cards. When I find myself starting to think my efforts aren’t working or the situation is hopeless, I read them. It helps me keep going.
The challenges can be tough. Patience is needed, lots of patience. Take care of yourself, because progress takes time, but perseverance pays off.
Re-tell the positive stories…
I worked with one young man. He was a serious offender and a risk to others. It took 2 years of twice weekly therapy and an intensive residential care setting, to deal with his problems. His history was horrendous. His offending was fuelled by it. But his recovery depended on dealing with his history. Needless to say, it took time.
Three and a half years later, he’s an adult. He’s still having help, but he’s offence free. He looks better. He speaks differently. He has hope. With our help, he’s re-written the ending to his own story.
You see, when we believe in young people’s potential to change and when we hang in there for long enough for them to trust us, we can help them to re-write the ending.
They get to prove the cynics wrong. We get to watch them change direction and head for a new destination. A new ending. Hopefully a happier one.
The story that their background wrote for them gets changed. It’s no longer predictable!
I hope it’s clear from this short piece that it’s not us who re-writes the end. It’s the young person. But we’re granted the privilege of helping.
Just as it takes bad experiences at the hands of dangerous people to damage a child, it takes good experiences with safe, consistent and caring people, to help them to write their own ending.
- How do you think we can best help young people re-write the ending to their story?
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© Jonny Matthew 2013