Recently I heard a radio interview in which the person being interviewed shared, “I grew up in the midst of girl gangs in L.A. a decade ago. And, none of my friends could imagine that in five years they might have a good job and an apartment of their own. Such a future was a complete impossibility for them to hope for!” These words underscore the desolate future that seems like the only option for too many kids. The interviewee continued, “I learned then that guns represent power for these kids. Gangs are also power. They don’t have ANY OTHER SENSE OF PERSONAL POWER.”
A deep sense of powerlessness does indeed fuel violence, lack of motivation, and other youth risk behavior. But the resiliency research paints another picture: Most kids who grow up in families, neighborhoods (and even schools) that portray such hopelessness and powerlessness as the only future wind up doing much better–in the long run–than would have been predicted.
Educators and all helping professionals can become more effective agents of this resiliency process by constantly communicating to kids: “You are resilient. You have strengths…I have seen them! Here is what I have seen in you [naming the strengths, even those being used in “negative” ways]. Now, let’s “try on for size” some other options for your future. What might you do? What [interest, hobby, field of study, possible career] kind of calls to you?”
The key is not to take all the statements of a negative future as the only option TOO seriously, realizing these are words born of hopelessness and powerlessness. In addition, recognize feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness don’t dissolve over night. But messages of support, belief in, and expectations for a positive future given to all kids have tremendous power…even if provided by just one person. Over and over again, the resiliency research documents THE POWER OF ONE PERSON to shift the trajectory of a young person’s life. (“The greatest give Ms. G gave was she was the one person who didn’t give up on me — no matter what” is a common statement made by resilient kids.) So don’t give up! **YOU are that person.**
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