If you haven't already, read last week's blog entry about a real life example of a behavior issue you might encounter at an urban youth ministry program.  This week, I will share with you an example of a less than helpful response that you or a volunteer could make to Keisha's behavior.

Keisha:  Hey, I wanted to let you know that I didn’t smoke weed and went to school two days last week. 
You:   Well, I’m glad you had two days without weed.  That’s really good.  But what about the rest of your days going up in smoke?  Each day you smoke per week, you aren’t representing Christ and getting further behind on school. You really should think about how if you don’t stop now, it’s really going to take a toll on your future. 
Keisha:  I want to do better, I really do.
You:  Well, you have to do more than want it; you have to really want to change.
Keisha:  I know, I know! (Annoyed, sighs.)

Why would I consider this a negative response to the youth even though you have told the truth and addressed Keisha's behavior issues?  Let's ask a few questions to discover why.

Where is Your Focus?

  • Lecture or Listening?  Lecture.  You jumped right in with advice without listening to how Keisha feels about the changes she is making.  Was it hard for her?  Does she want to do more?  Did she like how it felt?  Does she want to go back to school?  You’re admonishments, while true and valid, communicated to Keisha that her two successes were not good enough for you.  She needs to do better.
  • Positive Growth or What’s Left to Go?  What’s left to go.  By your choice of words, you acknowledge her two days as positive steps, but you focused the majority of the conversation on what’s left to go.  This communicates to Keisha that she would need to keep improving before you would view her as succeeding.
  • Youth’s response?  Keisha feels condemned, while she wants to do better, she knows she has still let you down.  She wants to change, but feels like she can’t change fast enough for your acceptance.  For some reason, and Keisha can’t figure it out, this isn’t really motivating to her.  She wants to please you, but she feels left alone to figure out how to completely quit weed and go to school everyday in a week.  Something she hasn’t done in years.

What about you?  Have you ever taken this faulty approach with urban youth?  I know I sure have!  Share your story below...

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