I recently wrote about how important it is to allow teenagers to make amends and regain trust when they have violated a rule or broken trust. In our many years of working with thousands of teenagers at Lakeside, we have had to deal with numerous discipline issues within their lives.
The teenagers that are referred to our programs have typically been regular offenders of rules in their schools, families or community. Our staff members understand the challenges of helping our students change destructive patterns of behavior so that students can be successful in a world where we all have to abide by rules, boundaries and standards.
What is glaringly apparent in many of our systems that deal with teenagers is that isolation is used as the most common form of discipline. In other words, students who violate rules are sent to offices, put on detention, given suspensions or even expelled. In spite of the overwhelming amount of research and data that suggests that these measures are ineffective, most systems continue to isolate students or use punitive measures to try to change behavior.
We know that teenagers are attuned to the impact of their relationships. In fact, they usually respond very well to the people they trust and believe in. In our discipline systems at Lakeside, we emphasize the relational aspects of dealing with inappropriate behavior. First, our staff members work hard to get to know our students individually and affirm each one’s strengths and abilities. It is important for all of us to have someone in our lives to believe in us and care about us for who we are. Teenagers have even greater needs than adults for affirmation and acceptance.
If these students continue to violate rules or be disrespectful, we engage more people into a plan to work with them on the problem. Each stage of discipline creates more mentoring relationships with the teenager, more accountability and more opportunities for the teenager to make successful changes. Eventually, the progressive and more intense constructive relationships help the teenagers make successful changes in how they look at themselves, their relationships and their behavior.
Most successful programs that work with teenagers recognize that building relational integrity and trust with them is essential to their ability to change and grow.
If we are going to resolve the abundant issues with our at-risk, vulnerable community, we will need a paradigm change in how we administer discipline. We desperately need to re-evaluate the way we are disciplining our students in schools, in juvenile justice and in our families.
Imagine the potential, the benefit and the impact of a system where we move toward our teenagers relationally. We need to be clear about their needs, learn about them to earn the trust they need so that we can mentor appropriately. And we need to do so utilizing discipline systems that help them engage into productive relationships to help them navigate through their journey to become independent.
I believe if we, as a nation, would change our way of dealing with teenagers and provide them with these relational types of discipline systems we would witness significant results that would revolutionize our schools, our communities and our families.
With great relationships, almost anything is possible!
Gerry Vassar, President and CEO, Lakeside Educational Network