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Thu, May 1st - 8:11PM

How to get better kids.

I'm a mum with teenagers, I work with young people in crisis, the drug addicts, self-harmers, and the violent and troubled and I was listening to some interesting facts on the radio.  Don't know the fellows name but he viewed young people in a triangle, just like we have the healthy eating triangle dividing carbs, vegies, dairy etc.  He said that the behaviours of our yp are like the last little bit at the top of the triangle and this is what we see.  In my line of work this is very visible.  These kids try to break and destroy everything around them. They are all and I really mean all angry.  They are violent and physically and verbally abusive to the adults around them and especially to any form of authority. 

Why wouldn't they be?  These children have been neglected and abused and more than anything else they have not been heard.  No one has valued them enough to listen to them.  They have been powerless to change their circumstances and those that should have protected them have sexually and physically abused them and if and when they cried for help, they have been punished as little liars. 

By the time I see them they are damaged, angry and betrayed.  They lash out at everything because it is the only way they know to be heard and to defend themselves.

Now getting back to the triangle. The top is what I see and it will be the same for you and the young people that are in your care or area of concern.  It doesn't have to be extreme behaviour, as the ones are that I care for, all behaviour will be what we see.  Good or bad.

As my radio guy put it, what is causing this or underlying this little bit, is their belief system. To demonstrate.  My kids (as in the aggressive ones, not my own girls) believe they are bad, that no one is going to hear them and that they are going to fail.  So they react accordingly, with aggression and fear and many so called "bad" or at least socially unacceptable behaviours.

My own children and many of their friends believe that they are good kids, valued, responsible, loved and supported. They react accordingly with more concern for others than themselves, willing to try new things and comfortable with the world around them.

What is the difference? Or rather, what makes the difference? 

The answer is in the next level down. The foundation below their belief system. The foundation below is what or how they were taught these beliefs.  Most kids are taught.  They have to get it from somewhere.  Beliefs are simply what we believe to be true.  So to put it simply. 

True stuff = what we are taught and think is true.

Why do we think something is true? Why do young people believe what they believe?

Well this is the interesting bit.  They come to believe through the last and the biggest bit of the triangle.  Through relationship. 

So the kids that are showing anti social behaviours

are acting on their belief system, what they believe to be true.

They formed this believe system by what they were taught.  

They believed what they were taught was true because of relationship. Because they loved and trusted the people that taught them.

Sounds rather scary when you put it like that.  What an enormous impact we have on those around us.  They believe what we say because we are who we are.  Good or bad.

So to follow this along a bit. 

Young Person loves his mum and dad and they  have power and authority over him - dad hits mum and mum does what dad says she must do - child hates it that they fight, hates that his mum is being hit, he feels powerless to protect her but still loves them both - he comes to believe

  • That it is OK to hit someone to get what you want

  • It is OK to put up with being hit

He goes to school and hits other kids to get what he wants and because he generally feels powerless, angry and confused by conflicting emotions.

He loves his teachers; they have power and authority over him.  They tell him he is a bad boy, that violence and aggression is bad and they punish him.  He goes to detention; he is isolated from other kids. He feels powerless to protect himself and frustrated and angry at the unfairness.  He believes his teachers.

  • He is bad

  • It is OK to punish someone without listening or understanding what is going on with him or her.

The spiral goes on, back and forth until he ends up taken away from home because he is hitting his sisters, hitting his mum and perhaps even dad, expelled from school and constantly being hit and isolated in detention centres by police, judges and welfare authorities. 

By the time I see this kid all that is visible is rage and violence at the top. I don't get to see or meet any of the people that he has been in relationship with and have contributed to his/her belief system.

Where do I start?

I can't do a thing until I too have a relationship with this Young Person.  All I can do immediately is manage the behaviour so that yp and other people and things around don't get hurt or damaged.  I can't clean out his belief system like you might wipe out a computer file and make up a new one.  I have to start at the bottom of the triangle and build a relationship of trust and unfailing love.  Love built around valuing this yp. Valuing his/her surroundings and personal things. Valuing opinions and listening to the yp.  I have a harder time than his parents did to build a relationship because by this time his trust has/her been broken, he has built a wall around his/her heart and the first thing that I encounter is this wall.  It was built by the yp to protect the yp from getting hurt by getting close to people who are going to fill him/her with false beliefs.  Beliefs that fail that yp.

Anyone in a young person's life who is in a position of authority with them.  Older brother or sister, teacher, footy coach, carer, granny or grandfather and of course parent has the opportunity to help them form a belief system.

What is in a belief system?

  •  Who I am.   This is a reaction to how others treat me. If I am loved and valued then I believe I am lovable and of value.  If I am neglected and uncared for I believe that I am not worth being loved and not worth looking after.  If the people that I loved gave me material things rather than time spent listening to me then I will want "things' to make me feel valued and loved. If the only form of touch I got was violence then I may act so that I'm restrained by my carers just so I am held and touched. If the only time anyone paid me any attention was when I was 'bad' then I believe that this is the only way to get any attention, I will be 'bad'. 

Note:  If your toddler screams and yells in the supermarket and you then 'talk' to him.  Who is directing this little life movie?  You or your toddler?  Perhaps if you talked to him and got him to help you with the shopping he would feel valued and important.  He would have the attention from the person he loves so much and there wouldn't need to put on an 'act' to get your attention.  If your teenager only gets attention from you when the cops call you then you are probably going to have the cops call you pretty often.  Our kids are resourceful and smart.  They will do what ever is necessary to get what they need.

  • What I do.  If those that I love think I can do things.  I am willing to try anything and will often succeed. If they don't care, don't know or don't make time to watch and help me I will  believe that I can't, I won't try.  Also what people believe of me is what I will believe and do.  If I believe my teachers think I am loud and disruptive then I will be that. I believe it too.  If they believe I am good and clever then I will be good and as clever as I can because I believe it too.

There is much more to a belief system that affects out daily lives, our health and our relationships. We might believe that smoking is OK or not. We all have different cultural beliefs that say what we eat, where and how we do things.  I think that the two above are the most basic and the two that have the most impact on our emotional health and our ability to function in the world around us. 

The rest doesn't really matter or has minimal effect on our happiness.

So! I rattle on but what am I trying to say.

What we see is the little top of the triangle, the behaviours.

Beneath that is a belief system

Beneath that is what we were taught

Beneath that is the relationship that the teaching came from.

This triangle of one thing being the foundation to the other is true of all "Authorative Communities" and an authorative community is any child adult relationship, teacher/student, coach/team, large group or one in authority and one subordinate. 

The relationship is what gives truth to the teaching.

The teaching forms a belief system

The belief system is acted out in the form of behaviour.

If you want to influence your teenagers and have them believe you, build strong loving and relationships of mutual respect and care.  Give them a belief system that will stand the tests of time and you will never have to worry about the little bit of the triangle that the world sees for it will be like the top of the ancient pyramids of Egypt.  It will shine like gold.

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May 2008
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