NUMBER 832 • 21 SEPTEMBER • HONORING COMMITMENTS
Principle 3. You must honor commitments even when children do not honor theirs.
We are held to a higher standard. As delinquency expert Denis Stott puts it, “We must be loyal to those who are disloyal, constant to the unreliable, forbearing to the provocative, always remembering that the greater the hate, the greater the need for love.” (1950) Just the time you are ready to give up on a child may be the time he or she decides you are worthy of trust.
Jim agreed to mentor 15-year-old Alex. The experience was not what he had envisioned. It was not that they did not connect. It was more that they did not even meet! Every time Jim went to Alex’s house to pick him up as they had agreed, Alex was not home. This happened seven times in a row. The next time Jim was driving to Alex’s, he had already decided that this was the last chance he was giving this relationship. It seemed more than obvious that Alex just was not interested. After ringing the doorbell several times, Jim walked back to his car, knowing he would not come back here again.
Just as he was about to drive away, Alex yelled out of a bedroom window, “Wait!” and came running out to the car. That day, the two of them began a friendship that would last several years. Jim later learned that Alex had been watching him from his window each time he came. He was testing Jim’s commitment before he was going to invest in the relationship. In Jim’s case, showing up was more than half the battle.
Every time you make commitments to children and keep them, even when they break theirs, you make major strides toward rebuilding the image of a positive authority figure. Why? Because the role you play as a significant, caring adult represents all the other adults who may have failed in that role with them over the years.
And although a series of failed relationships may contribute to a young person’s distrust toward adults who “get too close”, experiencing a successful relationship with an adult who keeps commitments can begin to reverse that distrust.
We tell our volunteer mentors, “You have to expect to phone kids 10 times to reach them once. Do not view this as wasted time. On the contrary, your persistence often works to strengthen the relationship like nothing else you can do.”
SCOTT LARSON and LARRY BRENDTRO
Larson, S. and Brendtro, L (2000). Reclaiming our prodigal sons and daughters: A practical approach for connecting with youth in conflict. Bloomington: National Education Service