It is estimated that 10-20% of Canadian youth are at risk or troubled. Troubled youth is a term used for children 18 and under who have become involved in or attracted towards drug and substance abuse, violence, forced sexual behaviours, or other crimes. The term can also be used for children who are not doing well in school, and who have poor home living conditions. These children are usually considered at risk because of financial instability and inadequate housing. Working with at risk youth can be a very rewarding experience. By working with troubled youth, you can make a drastic difference and have a positive impact on their lives. The following essay will demonstrate the positive impacts you can have on a youth’s life, and how one can help them through family support and community connections, play based learning and by getting them involved in something positive. When we do this, we are keeping them active, engaged, and out of any potential trouble.
Family support and community connections can have a really positive affect on troubled youth. The YMCA is an inspiring organization. I have actually been employed by them and worked with at risk youth. There are several organizations that work with at risk youth, but the YMCA focuses on the community and the family. YMCA family support programs bring parents, children, caregivers, and entire families together through drop-in or registered programs. Early childhood educators, and learning experts that work for the YMCA support the delivery of many different services, both formal and informal, that will help the families communicate with each other and make a connection in the community. On the YMCA website, one of their primary goals is to keep their values high and demonstrate them through inclusion, diversity, interdependence and respect for self, others and the environment. Praise and respect are taught in getting kids on track. According to an article featured in Cracked (2016), when a kid starts acting up, you reward the other children a privilege like going outside for the afternoon. If they have behaved well, and you put the disruptive child in the position of wanting attention, but not getting it for acting out. This essentially supports the idea that attention is earned through cooperation and respect, not misbehaviour. It also emphasizes that bad behaviour will not be rewarded and that there are consequences for one’s actions. It is important to not always call out the troubled youths behaviour. For example, I worked with a little girl who was at risk due to inadequate housing and struggled with behavioural issues and would typically act out. One day she stole a toy from another child. She realized it was wrong, and did the right thing by returning the toy and apologizing. I told her that her actions were respectful. I believe that kids can turn around behaviour simply by praising them for doing the right thing and not focusing on what they have done wrong. “Kill them with kindness”.
Play based learning is something that should be implemented whenever learning is involved, especially with troubled youth. It is easier for youth to become engaged in learning activities that seem fun or interesting. They often don’t realize that they are indeed learning. For example, I have created activities based on exercise, healthy eating, and bullying through games like family feud or jeopardy. This makes it more fun for kids as they are engaged in learning something new. One added advantage is that since they might not get the opportunity to eat healthy at home due to cost, or they may not have had chats about bullying or respect, discussions can create a positive atmosphere and ultimately a positive impact on the children. We need to continue allowing time to teach these things. Play based learning offers choice, experience, and discovery for the children. You need to ensure that you have involved staff to deliver these learning experiences. PLAY ON is a program offered by the YMCA that is focused on exercise, nutrition, wellness, and personal health and education. This program and other play based learning experiences are available for children at risk, but also to children who are capable of reaching their fullest potential. According to the YMCA website, through play, youth can develop social and cognitive skills, mature emotionally, and gain self confidence that is required to engage in new experiences.
When troubled youth become involved in activities, it allows them the opportunity to explore, and vent their energy in creative and positive ways. For example, it can be as simple as going outside. Most kids I have worked with would love to go outside! This is an ideal way for them to blow off steam. I actually found it would tire them out, and distract them from misbehaving. When the youth were engaged in something like a sport or a scavenger hunt, or even doing a chore is a good way for the youth to become involved. Each day I would ask a couple different children to help with setting up a game, activity, organizing the room for the afternoon or even tidying up after snack. When children are engaging in chores it gives them the opportunity to co-operate, follow a schedule or understand the ownership in taking your turn. Encouraging the children to be kind and give back is another great way to get them involved. For example, for Bullying Awareness Day, we had the children colour in pink t-shirts that contained anti-bullying pictures and words. Getting the children to positively impact other’s lives or to teach them that making a difference is a good thing can help them to develop a more positive and improving personality. If the children can realize because they have been through something similar like bullying, they realize that they can actually help others who have been impacted as well.
Working with at risk youth will leaving a lasting, positive impact on them. By engaging the youth in the community and utilizing community resources, along with learning and growing with them through play, we can teach them to become involved and actually change their lives for the better. Ultimately, we can improve the overall mental well-being, social skills, interdependence, self-confidence and respect for at risk youth and others. It is crucial that we take the time to acknowledge and work with at risk youth as they deserve to learn, and live a positive lifestyle, just as much as the next kid. We must remember that where they come from, and the conditions they have lived in, do not define them as human beings and maybe that should be our focus.