Being misunderstood is such a painful thing. If you have ever had your motives questioned or been labeled as a “problem”, you likely know the pain I’m referring to. So often the default response of an adult to misbehavior or a perceived attitude of a teenager is to assume that this person has a “heart” problem. “They are challenging my authority,” or, “They are refusing to obey and follow instructions,” are often the internal conversations we have with ourselves in the midst of dealing with a “problem” child. The more I spend time with young people, the more I am convinced of how often we adults are wrong with these default assumptions of motives and our internal reactions; then, unfortunately, our response produces more undesired behavior.
Imagine watching a baseball coach working to teach a player how to properly hold the bat while standing in front of the pitcher. The new player steps up to the plate with hesitation, having little confidence that he knows how to do this the “right way”. The moment the bat is raised, he hears the coach, “Drop your elbow. Loosen your grip. Line your knuckles up.” The player drops his elbow just like the coach asked, but it was the wrong elbow. His fear of getting hit by the ball has him gripping the bat like it is the safety bar on his first roller coaster ride. As the pitcher winds up, every muscle in the body of this new batter tenses up and without even thinking about it he closes his eyes as the pitch heads towards him, ‘cause that is what happens when you’re afraid. The coach screams out more instructions, but the player just is not getting it, now he wants to just run and hide and get back into the dugout where nobody is looking at him.
How often is this what is happening to teenagers in their social situations, in their classrooms, in their interactions with peers and adults? Now imagine the same scenario above, with a different response from the coach. After watching the new batter get into his stance, the coach walks over and leans in, whispering in the player’s ear while gently pushing down on his back elbow. “Relax, you’ve got this. Just keep your eyes on the ball.” His grip loosens up, his elbow is down. The coach had already instructed the pitcher to deliver a nice easy pitch down the middle. His knuckles are not lined up like they need to be, but the coach knows that is something that can be fixed later once the player has confidence in the batters box, so he says nothing about it. As the pitcher winds up, the coach steps back, and instead of thinking about how afraid he is of the ball making contact with his bones, the batter is only thinking about the bat making contact with that ball.
For the last couple of years I have been working hard at intentionally taking a different approach to conflict and behavior problems and the results are incredible. Every time I encounter a situation that would commonly be identified as “rebellious teenage behavior”, I assume that instead of this being an intentional act of willful disobedience or defiance that its more likely an issue of a lack of training or bad training. That produces in me a desire to provide instruction and guidance on how to properly handle the situation. The way I often handle it is by immediately replaying what happened, with me role-playing the position of the “trouble-maker” and demonstrating a better way of responding or handling the situation. Every single time this happens – the end result is a smile, like they’ve just learned some super-secret ninja trick. And right away I know that this was not an issue of “I will not behave properly because I do not want to” but more likely an issue of “I cannot behave properly unless you show me how”. A little training is all that is needed. This is part of what we do here at the Lighthouse on our mission to “Help young people find their way.” Now, to be clear, we do not believe that the core problem of mankind is that we all just need some instruction. We all have a “heart problem” called sin that can only be cured by surrendering to Jesus Christ. We also talk about this regularly at the Lighthouse. Many have taken this step of faith and are seeing their “want to” changed from the inside out.
We are close to being able to set a start date for construction of our Lighthouse Youth Outreach Center in Bunker Hill, but we still need help. We are about $20,000 short of having the funds to cover the cost of concrete. A couple weeks ago I mentioned this to a friend and he responded by saying he would give the first $1000, then he said, “I’m going to begin praying that 19 more people will respond in the same way.” Maybe its time for you to help? For more information about our vision for this outreach, you can read our past newsletters on our website at www.LHBH.org. You can also contact me directly at chris@LHBH.org and 765-271-6687. I would love to come share our story with you personally or any group you are involved in, including your churches. If you would like to send a gift, you can mail it to The Lighthouse, PO Box 336, Bunker Hill, IN 46914. All gifts are fully tax-deductible.
Chris Edgington, Director