Lori leads me
Our team has decided, somewhat hesitantly, that we need to become more empowering of youth. Some of us have attended workshops about this and are really excited by the possibility. Some of us are more hesitant—okay, let’s say they are a little more than hesitant.
However, last week we agreed that at our next team meeting we will invite Lori to come and participate while we review her progress and update her treatment plan. Because I am really in favour of this, I was asked to invite her to come and to prepare her for the meeting.
Lori is 15. She’s been in our school group for youth with behavioural problems for about two months and is really doing well. She is getting into trouble less frequently and hasn’t been suspended for almost a month.
Normally, she’s a follower, and we have been working with her to stand up for herself. Lately she has begun to show that she can make some decisions for herself that go against the peer group. She hasn’t done well in other groups she has attended before, but she seems to like this one.
In our group we normally do activities together and use the interaction as a time to discuss and explore behavioural alternatives. At the end of each group we have a short time when we share anything that any of the youth want to talk about. Over the past two weeks, Lori has wanted to talk about how the other kids are always trying to get her to do things she doesn’t want to do. This has been a big step for her.
I decide to approach Lori before the group begins, to talk with her about coming to the team meeting.
“Lori, I want to talk with you about coming to our team meeting next week.”
“Why?” I can hear the suspicion in her voice.
“Well, we have decided that we want to invite young people to the meetings when we discuss their treatment plan and progress. It will be a chance for you to let us know what you think and what you want to work on.
“Forget it,” she replies, turning away.
I reach out and touch her elbow. “But, why not, Lori? It’s a chance for you to have some control over your life.”
“I got enough control. Besides, if I go the staff are just going to tell me how I’m screwing up.”
I know that some of the staff will have a tendency to do this. And I know that some of them are afraid that she will tell them the same thing about themselves.
“Well, it’s going to be new for all of us so we will all have to watch out for our bad habits. Come on, Lori, give it a try.”
“Look,” she responds with anger. “Just because you guys have started on some new kick doesn’t mean you have to drag me into it. Ask somebody else.”
I need her to come because I have worked so hard to sell this idea to the rest of the team. But I don’t want to push her too hard.
“Lori, I don’t want to push you into something you don’t want to do, but I would really appreciate it if you would give it a try. It would mean a lot to me.”
She turns around and starts to walk away again.
As she walks away, I am tempted to call after her. But then I remember something someone once asked me: “Who is this intervention for? Whose needs are being met here?” I decide to take time to reflect.
Lori needs to become more assertive. And we, as a team, need to become “more inclusive.” I need to show the team that involving youth can be a good idea. But is it a good idea to try and persuade someone who really doesn’t want to come? If she did come now, would she just be doing it for me? And then how would things be likely to unfold?
If she comes under protest, I’m afraid that she will experience exactly what she says she will experience. The experiment will fail, and then some staff will use that as an excuse to say that there is nothing to be gained by this experience. That will increase the likelihood that we will become less, rather than more, inclusive in the future. For this reason alone it’s probably not a good idea to pursue it with her.
But if I don’t get her to come I’ll lose the opportunity to show the team that including youth can make things work better. And the next time I suggest something like this, some of them will remind me of this experience.
I realize that I am reflecting more on “us” and “me” than on Lori. This suggests that succeeding with this intervention is less for her than it should be. As I turn my reflection to her, I wonder first why she is so resistant to the idea. I notice that I am labelling her, and try to be a little more objective. I focus on her intervention plan and what we are trying to help her to accomplish. I remember a goal we have been working toward: that Lori will become more assertive and be less of a follower.
Seen in this light, her rejection of my invitation could be interpreted as a good sign: that she is being more assertive in the face of perceived authority.
Unless, of course, she is only doing it because of how the other kids would feel toward her if she agreed, in which case she is doing it because of others, not because of herself.
Two possible interpretations, either of which might be valid. Now that I am focused more on her, other avenues become open to me:
I could pursue this with her individually, looking at why she rejected my invitation and follow up on her response to that.
In the group, I could raise the subject of how we, as caregivers, sometimes ask youth to do the very things we are asking them to change.
I could run after her right now and apologize for putting her in such a position.
As I reflect on my options, I think about what empowerment might mean. And in this case empowerment might mean accepting her response for what it is: Lori having more control over Lori’s life.
It is ironic that in asking her to participate in a
situation in which she might have more control over her life, I resisted
letting her do just that. If I force her into participating in what I
see as an empowering opportunity, I encourage her disempowerment. For
her to have more control, I must have less. To focus on her needs, I
must focus less on my own.
I wonder if my need to demonstrate the value of inclusion to the team is any different than Lori’s need to have approval from her peers. Perhaps in order to facilitate her empowerment, I must first facilitate my own.
I catch up with Lori and ask her if we can have time together after the group. She agrees. I make a note to myself to raise this in the team meeting. In the group meeting Lori recounts with pride how she rejected my offer.