AUTHOR’S NOTE: To a few young inmates, I am a mentor or a “Religious Advisor”, to use a Department of Corrections (DOC) term. To other young men I am just a friend and a good listener. I approach troubled young men with great empathy for them and their families…Ed Spencer
TROUBLED YOUNG MEN GET INTO TROUBLE
Often, the parent or parents of young men behind bars will say “how could this have happened to my son”. I would like to share some observations from being a long-time listener of teens in trouble. By listening to their stories, we can learn so much about how to help prevent tragedies from happening in the first place.
A few years ago a young inmate said to me “I wish I could have had a trusted friend like you before I made my bad choices”. I will always remember hearing that and it motivated me to share such stories, hoping to prevent these tragic situations in other young men’s lives.
I will never know if I could have made a difference for that young man… would he have actually listened and taken my advice in the midst of his turmoil? For some of these guys, things can go downhill real fast as life comes at them at the speed of light. Often life explodes in their face before they have the chance to evaluate the situation correctly; ignoring the reality of the consequences. Most teens believe they are invincible; bad things won’t really happen to them. By the time the reality of the consequences hits them, it is too late. Bad choices can happen very quickly for them, especially when uncontrollable anger has a grip on them.
ENCOURAGING YOUNG MEN—THE ROLE OF THE MENTOR
Encourage is a powerful word of action. With a teenager, the act of encouragement empowers them and inspires them to believe in themselves and to feel good about themselves. It is the key to opening the door of communication with them. It acknowledges them as an important part of your life and a real important member of your society. When you pour encouragement into a teen, it builds their self-image, and it helps them develop a resistance to the negative peer pressure that is everywhere in their world.
Your acceptance and encouragement to a teenager needs to be a stronger positive force in their lives than the negative force pulling at them from their peers. Build them up and you build their resistance to ridicule and criticism. Without encouragement, teens can easily give up and do stupid things that can ruin their life. Encouragement can and will lead to trust and confidence in an adult–if they can have that relationship without fear of ridicule.
Encouragement always needs to be genuine. Flattery is never encouragement. Encouragement is based on truth and is the acknowledgement of what is good and positive about ones behavior. Encouragement is about finding the best in an individual, and helping them see themselves from that perspective.
The challenge for many adults is to find the behaviors that you need to encourage. You can always find something and start somewhere. With some adults, encouraging is a behavior that needs to be learned—often because they grew up with discouragement and rejection. All of us can learn to encourage others. When we pour encouragement into others, encouragement is poured back into us.
On the other hand, discouraging a teenager removes empowerment, inspiration, and any hope for them to believe in themselves. A feeling of rejection may set in which, again, diminishes hope and crushes their spirit. The teen can become overwhelmed by peer ridicule and criticism. Such ridicule and criticism, without a strong counter-balance of encouragement, eventually translates into rejection…which ultimately leads to the destruction of their self-worth, they lose hope, and the “I don’t care” attitude is the result. Sound familiar?
The current generation of teens has so many challenges and on so many different levels to battle. When a teen trusts a parent or an adult, they will be given the privilege of guiding them to make good choices. No, you cannot make those choices for them, but you will have the privilege of positive influence when it truly counts.
ENCOURAGMENT GIVES STRENGTH AND EMPOWERS
Too often, today’s teens find themselves in dark complicated situations without even realizing how they got there. Teens can be very cruel to each other. Peer pressure is an unpredictable and very strong force.
Give your teens and the teens you know the power to resist their peers. Empower them by believing in them and making encouragement the bigger force in their lives. Be their mentor, their listener, their encouraging coach–who truly believes in them!
Encourage other men to get involved in mentoring. Troubled teens and young people are a valuable creation of the Living God, and they do matter to Him. It doesn’t take an expert to be a mentor. It just takes a man willing to be an encouraging friend and a listener. I know that you, and those you help, will be well-rewarded in the end!
By Ed Spencer