Defiance or Survival?

Defiance or Survival?

You are running errands at Target. You see a mom with her pre-teen. The girl mentions that she is hungry, and her mom explains that they are almost done at the store and will get some lunch once they get home. As you stand in the check-out line, you see her eyeing the candy. She asks for some. Again. Mom says, “No.” As you watch, you see the child has opted to steal the candy from the store as opposed to waiting until they get home.

Pause for a minute. How would you handle that situation? What if you were the parent? If you are like most parents I know, you proceed to lecture your child on stealing and add a few lines about how you told her she could eat at home. You drag her back into the store, purchase the candy, make said child apologize, and then take her home to do chores and earn the money back you just spent. Or you repossess her allowance money. You confiscate the candy and promise more consequences.

Now, think of the most challenging youth you know. It may be a student from your classroom at school. Maybe a teen from your church. It may be a youth who is involved with the legal system. It may be your friend’s child. It may be your own child. How do you really view their challenging behaviors? As defiance? As a lost cause?

Each day as parents, school staff, and youth workers, we confront behavior. Sometimes it’s minor disrespect. Sometimes it’s fighting in a hallway where someone is physically hurt.

Consider this:

Is a child or youth’s inappropriate behavior intentional defiance or is it a survival skill?

Even asking that question probably raises a few eyebrows. Most of us have the same gut response. I told (fill in a name) not to do that. They did it anyway. They have no respect for me and need to have (fill in a consequence). But is that really the full story? For our children, we know their story and their history. For other youth – students we see twice a week at a sports activity or church, students in our support groups – we usually only know part of their story. It is much harder to see their needs.

In the words of Dr. David Cross, “Having compassion and understanding helps us to see the need. Seeing the need is changing your frame of reference so you realize that these aberrant behaviors are survival strategies rather than willful disobedience. If you look at your child’s behavior through the lens of his history, his actions make perfect sense. We don’t know all of the potential hurt so we can’t always understand what it takes to survive. How we view behavior changes everything.”

Is the behavior functional? No, most likely not. However, it isn’t fruitful to remove a child’s survival strategy, no matter how negative, without giving them a new strategy. Demanding a child stop stealing food without providing for the very real fear that they will not have food is not going to be successful. Demanding that a child use their words and not fists when they have had to fight to protect themselves or a family member will not change the behavior, without first providing another strategy.

A few questions to consider:

Who is the child or youth in your world that makes you feel like you are spinning your wheels?

How can you change how YOU see their behavior? Can you see their needs not just their actions?

What tools can you provide to the youth in your life in order to increase their success?

 

**The survival vs. willful disobedience concept was introduce to our team while attending a training on Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI.) More information on TBRI can be found here.

 

Beth Nichols is Teen Life’s Program Manager. With her background in social work and experience as a mom of 4, her perspective is invaluable.
5 Ways to Face the Storm

5 Ways to Face the Storm

What a week here in Texas! Our thoughts and prayers are with all the people in Corpus Christi, Houston and the surrounding areas. It’s a heartbreaking situation, and if you are interested in helping, it will be a long and expensive process, so now is the time to jump in with a donation or work out a way go in person and help. You can donate through this YouCaring site that J.J. Watt started and has already raised over $20 million, but the recovery will be long and expensive, so a donation now will help when later many people forget about the efforts that will take months or years.

All the news about the storms reminded me about something we talk about in our Facilitator Training as we explain what is happening at the core of what we do. In a very different way we all face storms in our life. Teenagers are especially susceptible to intense, potentially life changing storms. These life interruptions can make or break a teenager and their future.

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post on the specifics about how we can think about this considering how buffalo and cattle handle the storms that blow over the Rockies. Each handling it in their own way. This came from Rory Vaden’s book Take The Stairs. I have continued using this analogy since reading the book years ago.

Today though I wanted to take this idea further. The 5 parts to facing a storm in life are foundational principles that will help any teenager form a perspective that will give them the courage to face the challenges they encounter.

 

Prepare Yourself First

Preparing yourself is often something we feel we should do after we take care of everyone else. For a teenager, this preparation can be anything from learning an effective mental exercise, to a list of resources in their phone, to prioritizing who they would call first, second and third in an emergency. When we face hardships, our natural reaction is to work quickly to remove them. The truth is the quickest and easiest way to handle a difficulty is to know what to do when it happens. Any of these are relevant approaches, but you know what prepares them the most? Their mental preparation. We do not enjoy thinking about the worst case scenario, but when we take the time to do this, we gain the benefit of feeling we would be able to handle something tough if it comes our way. The bottom line is we handle it best when we are prepared.

 

Model Calmness for Your Teen

Modeling is an opportunity to show a teenager how to stay calm and collected through a life storm. In the buffalo example, the young ones know what to do becuase they watch how the older ones take action when the storms begin to approach. We can do the same. I have learned from years of working with teens that many of us parents try to only do this ourselves. The truth is you need to intentionally involve other adults you trust in your teen’s life so that they will have multiple respected adults to watch and talk to about what is happening. They will likely never share everything with one adult, especially if their only option is you as their parent.

 

Attack the Situation with Confidence

I prefer to say confidence because courage can sometimes sound like “sucking it up”. But “Attack with Confidence” sends the message that I am prepared, resourced and intentionally moving toward the situation because I believe I have what it takes to handle it. Since our natural tendency is to remove all pain, it is counter intuitive to think that you could be in an offensive position when you have an unexpected pain point. But it really is true. Consider what you have faced before, think about how it made you stronger and move forward expecting to learn something once again that will help you face the next challenge. We can never remove the stress from life, but we can believe we have what it takes to make it through.

 

Enlist a Community

I touched on this above, but it is much deeper than that. Did you know that the thing that makes people the most happy is being with other people? I heard last weekend that a study showed that people who were not in community but joined a group of some kind cut their odds of dying in the next year in half! In half! That is worth it right there. But there are more benefits. For about 3 years, I was in a group of other directors of nonprofit programs. I learned a ton from these people both about what to do and what not to do. Our group helped make me and our organization better even though they didn’t have any direct impact on decisions made in our organization. Here’s the key though, be sure you include people different than you in your community. It will help stretch you and help you see how drastically varied perspectives can be. Often you may find that things in your life aren’t really so bad and the hard work you are putting in is worth what you get out of it.

 

Celebrate the Survival

Once you have gotten through a difficult time, it is important to recognize, if only in a small way, that you made it. Your family can set the tradition here. You decide how things get celebrated. The point in this is to put emphasis on the fact that you survived. No one is saying you have to survive a certain way or have to look tougher on the other side, just make it through. Then as you draw on the strength that got you through, you will be able to pull yourself together and continue to grow into the new you. By seeing every situation you face as a chance to grow, to learn, to become more self-aware and others-focused, you can celebrate more on the other side because you will feel accomplished rather than beat down each time you survive what life throws at you.

What do you think? Do you have examples of times you have survived and how it made you better? Share them with us or at least share them with someone close to you so it can help them have a different perspective too.

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.