Sunday’s San Jose Mercury News (April 1, 2012) was nothing to “fool” about. Two stories caught my eye as asset building opportunities for our community. The front page continued the week’s reporting on cheating issues at a local high school. Appropriately, the article extended the conversation beyond a particular school or single incident of cheating to address the widespread problem of stressed-out, over-burdened, under-connected youth and their casual, even mandatory use of cheating as a survival skill. Sharon Noguchi writes about the complexities of the issue. Inside, the Lifestyle section devotes much of the front page to: “Is my child a bully?” by Sue McAllister. Reading the articles with an “asset builder’s lens”, I see opportunities to use these conversations to deepen our relationships with young people and provide youth with direction on addressing these complex and pervasive issues.
Let’s start with Support. Clearly, ongoing positive family communication about course selection, academic pressure and social inclusion/acceptance, combined with caring adults intentionally connecting with youth at school are preventive efforts that we can put in place immediately to address both issues.
What can you do? Engage youth in frequent conversations that allow you to both hear and act upon the youth voice, while communicating your own values and expectations. Get started at home by sharing family meals together, without the interruption or distraction of technology.
Blame for unrealistically high expectations and a narrow focus on performance rather than learning by all groups (parents, teachers, college boards, coaches, peers) may be the broader explanation for raising indifferent learners. However, this same indifference and lack of connection is at the root of bullying, too. A consistent, redundant and intentional devotion to first connecting with youth, then teaching AP Calculus or correcting put-downs and exclusion behaviors by our whole community is required. If rigor, relevance and learning engagement were present, why would one cheat? If connection, belonging and support were present, why would one degrade others?
Next, let’s focus on Empowerment. Youth who contribute to their world; who are invited to join the conversation; who feel valued, respected and known; are gaining lifelong attitudes about learning, about inter-personal competence and about their positive place in our world. When we believe in youth, they begin to believe in themselves!
What can you do? Give youth meaningful opportunities to contribute at home and in the community. Start by re-naming “chores” as a contribution to our family’s well being. Let youth contribute to family mealtime by playing a role in the planning, shopping, preparation or clean up of the meal. Because time together as a family is important to us, we all work together to make it happen!
According to Project Cornerstone’s 2010 survey of youth in Santa Clara county, youth with positive connections to caring adults and peers are more likely to engage in pro-social behaviors like increased GPA, valuing diversity and positive conflict resolution.
What can you do? Tell youth stories of struggle, of overcoming frustration and the joy of discovering or learning something new. Then, help them find their own stories, and finally become the story of thriving that they are meant to tell.
Certainly, we can use our positive relationships to guide youth by providing Boundaries that keep them safe. Boundaries are good for kids. Conversations about the value behind rules (at home and at school) allow youth to see the relevance of the boundaries. When youth understand the value behind the rule, and they do not want to disappoint caring adults, their actions are more likely to remain “in bounds”.
What can you do? Although both the rule and the relationship are important, establishing a connection before imposing a correction is the asset builder’s secret weapon!
Lastly, explore their world. How do youth spend their (Constructive Use of) Time? Help youth find or regain the balance that they need to thrive. Help guide youth by helping them identify and pursue their sparks and passions. But do not neglect to help them balance rigor and challenges with time and activities that refresh and refuel them.
What can you do? Time engaged as a family, sharing meals and stories of our day are ways that families can share their values and really hear (and empathize with) the struggles and pressures youth face.
The struggles, frustrations and conflicts discussed in these articles aren’t just kid stuff. We adults feel enormous peer pressure (by our peers; other parents) when enforcing rules, reporting SAT scores, college acceptance/rejection letters, Prom Queen status, etc. Backstabbing doesn’t quit at graduation, either. Workplaces are filled with lies, cheating and intolerance. Getting along with other human beings, self-regulation and delayed gratification are hard. That being said, we are the adults. Let’s not exclusively saddle youth with solving problems we find hard to tackle, too.
For more information about building assets in youth (and adults), visit www.ProjectCornerstone.org
Our Take It Personally adult study group is a great place to get started sharing ideas for creating a safer and more caring community where all youth (and adults) thrive.