Giving kids confidence

Submitted by mfitch on February 13, 2009 - 05:24. ::

This  is all about expectations. Together, you and your youth pastor (and any other adults involved in the life of your teen) have great expectations for what kind of adult they'll become. What can you do to help your teen meet and exceed your expectations? This excerpt from "When Church Kids Go Bad" (and they do!), will help you encourage the confidence in your teen to meet those expectations. (Editor's Note: This was originally written to youth workers, but applies to parenting as well.)

It's easy to forget that discipline is intended for our young people's benefit, not for our own. I have to be careful that I am not merely trying to create a showpiece. Do I care too much what others think about my kids and their reflection on me? Is the discipline I'm doing really something that will help my young people grow and mature, or is it just about getting kids to listen to what I say? All discipline and punishment should be done to help my young people be their best, not make me look good or give me fewer problems.
As adult youth leaders we must accept personal responsibility for some of what goes on in our youth group. Sometimes I can be my own worst enemy. When I lose my temper, raise my voice, or put a kid down, I lose my credibility, build up barriers, and tear down a kid's self-esteem. It helps to ask ourselves how much we are contributing to the discipline problems we experience.
There's a story about a ship that was trying to make its way on a dark, foggy night. All of a sudden the captain saw a bright light directly in his ship's path. The captain flashed a message to the approaching ship: "Change your course 10 degrees to the north."
Within a few seconds a message came back to the captain, "Change your course 10 degrees to the south."
Well, that irritated the captain, so he sent out another message to this approaching ship: "I am a captain. Change your course 10 degrees to the north."
He got another message back: "I'm a Seaman 3rd Class. Change your course 10 degrees to the south."
This infuriated the captain, so he sent out a third message as he maintained his path directly toward the oncoming light: "I'm a battleship. Change your course 10 degrees to the north."
He got another message back. "I'm a lighthouse. Change your course 10 degrees to the south."
Sometimes we are the ones who need to shift direction if we want to make a difference in the lives of kids. I used to pray, "Lord, change my kids," and nothing seemed to happen. But when I began to pray, "Lord, change me," I started to see my kids in a different light.
To start building your positive disciplinarian skills, try this little exercise. Think about the various activities involved in a typical gathering of your youth group. As you consider each part of the meeting, imagine how your youth group would look if every student were mature and cooperative. (Am I asking the impossible?) Picture what the group is like when every single youth is motivated and responsible. Once you envision how you would like young people to participate in activities, you are on your way to teaching young people to meet your positive expectations.
Gordon MacDonald explains that there are two ways to paddle a canoe through white water. You can wait until you get into the rapids to decide what you're going to do, but you'll probably end up falling into the water. The other way is to keep your eyes 50 yards downstream, picking your route in advance so you know exactly how you're going to act before you get there. Many adult youth leaders make the mistake of never planning ahead not thinking about what kind of young people they hope to produce.
When I was younger, I was taught that if you have high expectations of young people, you'll always be disappointed. But that's not necessarily true; in fact, it often works just the opposite way. When people know you have high expectations of them, they have more incentive to perform well. This fact is supported by a study cited by Warren Bennis in The Unconscious Conspiracy: Why Leaders Can't Lead. Bennis refers to a study of schoolteachers that concluded that when teachers held high expectations of their students that alone was enough to cause an increase of 25 points in the students' IQ scores.
It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, "Our chief want in life is someone who will make us do what we can." Our job as adult youth leaders is to give kids confidence God is working in and through them. Always remember you are dealing with ordinary kids in the hands of the extraordinary God. We need to communicate to young people that we have confidence in them.
Unfortunately, our words sometimes communicate the exact opposite. Learn to avoid these and other negative words and phrases which tend to discourage young people:
"Let me finish that for you."
"You are too slow."
"I'm ashamed of you."
"There isn't any excuse for this."
"Can't you do anything right?"
"Did you mess that up again?"
"When will you ever learn?"
"What's the matter with you?"
It's odd how constant fault finding can make a young person deaf. He learns to turn off the criticism because he knows what type of comments he is going to hear. If you are given to blaming, ridiculing, teasing, or sarcasm, then stop it. No one likes this kind of behavior. Fault finding is self-defeating; when you have a legitimate criticism, the young person is unlikely to heed it. He has heard too many picky statements he knows were not valid. Fault finding does not usually change a person's behavior on a long-term basis. It may sometimes produce immediate results, but lasting results are rare.
Remember that every one of your kids is a mixture of good qualities and bad ones. If you tend to label your young people--each student is either motivated or lazy, smart or dumb, charming or challenging--you minimize who they all are as individuals. Try to see all the kids you work with as real people with both positive and negative qualities. Then you can help them overcome the negative while building on the positive qualities. We need to treat our kids in ways that reflect our highest expectations of all they are and all they can become.
Some adult youth leaders never expect their young people to amount to much, and those leaders are seldom disappointed. But when you believe in your kids, they'll rise to your expectations. Don't stifle their desire to succeed by telling them they can't. Instead, let your positive attitude rub off on them.
Les Christie has spent more than forty years in youth ministry, including more than twenty years in the same church. An energetic speaker, Les also chairs the youth ministry department at William Jessup University. He's the author of more than a dozen books and lives in California with his wife, Gretchen, where he no longer has to discipline his two grown sons, Brent and David.
Learn more about and purchase "When Church Kids Go Bad" here:
from Youth Specialties Parents Newsletter: