NEVER Give Up On Our Children

 

As a life skills trainer that facilitates male youth workshops, I’d love to tell all of you that I always have the answers to every challenge presented to me by my charges.  Any of you who are parents would know that it would be pure malarkey if I told you that I did.  The biggest difference between training adults and children is that children are often not participating in my workshops of their own accord.  Because of this fact, and because children think differently than adults, I often have to spend much time in the beginning finding the key to my audience.  I have to find what makes them tick.  What grabs their attention.

With some groups, I find the key relatively easily.  Some groups are naturally trusting and chatty, and I find out relatively quickly that we connect based on things such as a love of sports, or movies, or music, or fashion, etc.  Once I find the key, I use it to build my relationship with them, and then hone in on the theme of the workshop to get them to grow….

Some youth groups are far from cooperative, to say the least.  In the public school systems I’ve worked in, I’ve encountered groups that were downright hostile.  I currently facilitate male youth training for such a group in Baltimore.  There are three young men in particular who have been disruptive for weeks.  And they’ve done so to a degree I’ve never encountered before.  They fight, yell out, perform inappropriate dances at completely inappropriate times, throw chairs, etc.  Now…before you sit there judging me, let me tell you that I’ve observed their behavior with EVERYONE at their school, including their teachers and administrators.

And so, as I walked in the door earlier this week, I found myself at wit’s end.  I was drained.  And I found myself in the unfamiliar position of feeling like I’d been…finally…WHIPPED.  And whipped bad.  The week prior, I decided to make an adjustment in the planning and bring in my chess set.  I also had a movie about chess and the life skills that can be gleaned from the game.  I was, however, not optimistic about the chances of my young men actually sitting still for a movie and showing interest in something “boring” like chess….

Then it happened.  I opened up my tournament chess bag and set up the game on the middle table.  While I set up my laptop, I noticed something strange.  There was no noise.  No chairs flying.  No cursing.  No fighting.  All of the young men gathered quickly around the board…and then I saw it.  The lights in their eyes.  Burning brightly.  Wheels turning upstairs.  Smiles on their faces.

Not only did they sit through the movie clips and wait patiently as I explained the game to those who were unfamiliar to it, but the one who had given me the most behavioral challenges kept everyone quiet and attentive.  Then we played.  And he gave me the game of my life.  This newly-minted teen promptly engaged me in a wide-open game, defending my attacks deftly and picking apart my defense.  With time running out, we declared a draw.  But in my secret heart of hearts, (and I suspect in his), I knew he would have won.

Who knew??  Turns out this young man has been playing chess since he was six years old.  And most of the young men have played for years as well.  Which led me to ask Mr. Behavior a question that hadn’t occurred to me before: “If you can think three or four moves in advance, and study both your options and your consequences BEFORE making moves, why do you let the other boys here play you out of position?  Why do you behave the way you do in class?”  His answer?  “I don’t know.  Sometimes I just get mad.”

And there it is.  Having found their key, I now can talk to these young men on a completely different level.  And with a genuine respect for and bond with one another, because of a game we all love.  They can’t hide it from me any more.  I’ve seen it.  That light in their eyes.  Their minds working.  Their intelligence.  Their wit.  All the while I thought I would teach them a thing or two.  But in the end, they’re the ones who taught me.

NEVER give up on our children.

Stay tuned.  I’m tightening up my game.

Sound Off!

Broadcast Your Inner Champion

2 Responses to "NEVER Give Up On Our Children"

  • Keith Walker says:

    I like the topic, i recently wrote a book called Father’s Dey, in it it I describe how i grew up without my father and all the things i experienced after becoming one. i can relate to the youth groups i think its very important for young men and women to have something positive they can be apart of. i like the chess story also, i went to an all white school and was introduced to chess in the 4th grade. we had a class tournament and everyone was shocked, some mad, that i was crowned the champion. keep up the good work.

  • steveberlack says:

    Thanks for your feedback Keith. I greatly appreciate it. And congratulations on your book. Much success.

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