I am sure many of you have seen these bracelets in the past and with school about to start up the issue of appropriate dress comes up again. After working with teens for 10 years I have found that my attitude about these kind of things has changed. More so how I handle them then what I think is right or wrong is what is different.
As adults I think we can do a lot of harm by handling this the wrong way. We have a great opportunity to simply offer an alternative perspective.
This past spring I saw one of these bracelets from the Keep A Breast Foundation on a teen guy at the church I attend. Without paying attention to who it was I (being an ex-youth minister) started to tell him to take it off or turn it around. Then I noticed who it was. I am glad I did. His aunt had breast cancer and was actually doing very poorly. I am so glad I stopped myself before I stuck my foot in my mouth.
I think that many times our reaction as adults is to put teens in their place and assume they are just trying to get attention. How much more good could we do if we don’t always assume the worst. Here are 5 suggestions for how you can do that for the teens you work with, yours or someone else’s.
1. Give the benefit of the doubt. Believe me I know this is hard because teens will take advantage of it. Instead think of how much ground you could gain when a teen realizes you are not like every other adult they know.
2. Point the attention to the heart of the matter. Talk to them about the cause they are supporting. If they are wearing the bracelet for the wrong reason take the time to help them see how they could really be making a difference. That teen might be the one that finds a cure.
3. Offer other suggestions. You literally want to just suggest that there might be a better way. After that it is up to them to follow through. (in this case fighting breast cancer).
4. Look inside yourself. We all need to do more of this. Why are you really trying to set them straight? Is it possible that their way of effecting the world might just look different then yours but still accomplish the same thing?
5. Talk about a deeper issue. There can be several things that could be taught instead of even addressing the bracelet. I remember a story my aunt told about her mother not wanting her to wear shorts to the store. Of course, she did anyway. When she came home there was no reprimand, discipline, or yelling. Instead she choose to have a Bible study with her. I am not sure, but I imagine it was about respecting your elders and thinking of others rather than yourself (It may have had Ephesians 6 in there but knowing my Grandmother probably not).
A new school year is about to start. No doubt this issue and many like it will come up, especially if you deal with teens, or pre-teens. I would encourage you to take a moment and reflect on your own motivation in “setting them straight”. Remember they look up to you one way or another. Let’s work together to make sure they look up to us for the right reasons.
No doubt there are different opinions on this issue. I am open to your thoughts and feedback. In your experience what has been the most effective way to gain a positive response from a teen you have needed to correct?