When “Lessons” Don’t Help

At potluck last night, we could’ve easily had close to 30 kids come in.  It’s awesome to have such a presence from the neighborhood youth, but we’re still slowly trying to figure out what to do with them.

Lately, after the meal, we’ve been taking the group of them back to one of our classrooms, where they have a little bit of space to hang out, dance, play board games, or whatever.  Naturally, with dozens of kids from elementary through high school, it can get a little chaotic and hard to control.

When it’s time to leave, one of our rules is that the kids have to clean up and put away the games that they got out.  Naturally, that’s also the time when most of the kids will do their best to bolt for it (especially the younger ones… the older kids are too “cool” to bolt like that, they just try to refuse).  Last night was one of the times when most of the kids who had used some games got away; a group of the older guys, however, were hanging around because their bikes were locked in another classroom.

As they were demanding to get to their bikes, I decided this was a great opportunity to teach them some responsibility.  So, I made it very clear, and disregarded their frustration, by saying that I wasn’t going to open the door until the games were cleaned up.  This went on for a couple minutes.  The end result?  The kids were upset, a couple were coming a little confrontational with me and another adult, and the adults ended up cleaning the room anyway.

Yup, that was a great lesson in group responsibility!

The biggest mistake, I think?  I tried to teach them a lesson that they didn’t know they were supposed to be learning.  I wanted them to grasp just a bit of the idea of be responsible for each other and being willing to help out; I think they saw me as asking them to clean up a mess they really hadn’t made, and holding their bikes hostage to try to coerce them.  I realized when I got home that, without having the role of being some kind of teacher or mentor to them, I ended up just disrespecting them and their property.  Oops.

There was one redeeming moment, however.  As they were getting their bikes, the kid who had been the most confrontational noticed that the chain had come off of his.  Instead of urging him to hurry (which I think he expected), I got down to look at his bike with him.  I couldn’t really help much, he got the chain back on in a minute, and we didn’t really talk much… but it seemed like he left with a slightly different tone than he’d had just a moment before.  A tiny thing, but reassuring nonetheless.

How do we reach these kids?

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~ by Peter on April 17, 2008.

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